Blog | Friday, August 17, 2012

QD: News Every Day--Retail clinics filling a gap for simple care

Retail clinic visits have doubled- year-to-year, but still make up a small share of overall outpatient care, a study in Health Affairs concluded.

Retail clinic visits increased fourfold from 2007 to 2009, from 1.48 million visits in 2007 to 3.52 million visits in 2008 to 5.97 million visits in 2009. This is still smaller than 117 million visits to emergency departments and 577 million visits to physician offices annually.

From the beginning of 2007 to the end of 2010, the number of retail clinics increased from approximately 300 to almost 1,200, and the clinics have partnered with larger entities such as the Cleveland Clinic.

The American Medical Association, the American Academy of Family Physicians, and the American Academy of Pediatrics have in the past all spoken out against the clinics. The American College of Emergency Physicians called for a well-defined scope of practice for them.

The American College of Physicians has six points for retail clinic arrangements, including ensuring continuity of coverage and communication between the clinic and a primary care provider.

To assess retail clinics' growth, researchers looked at electronic health records and billing records from the three largest operators of retail clinics, which make up 81% of clinics in the U.S.

Peaks visits occurred in October and November, as clients sought flu vaccines, and to a lesser extent, treatment upper respiratory infections. The most common reasons for visits included vaccines, upper respiratory infections, ear infections, urinary tract infections, and allergies. Only rarely was there acute care, and about 1% of visits were for chronic disease care.

"The rapid growth of retail clinics makes it clear that they are meeting a patient need," the authors wrote. "Convenience and after-hours accessibility are possible drivers of this growth."