"Despite the controversy over the entry of retail clinics into chronic disease management," say authors of a new study published online in Health Affairs, less than 1% of visits through 2009 were for chronic disease care.
The number of patient visits to retail clinics grew from 1.48 million in 2006 to 5.97 million in 2009. Preventive care—in particular, the influenza vaccine—was a larger component of care for patients at retail clinics in 2007-2009, compared with patients in 2000-2006 (47.5% versus 21.8%). Across all retail clinic visits, 44.4% of visits in 2007-2009 were on the weekend or during weekday hours when physician offices are typically closed.
From 2000-2006 to 2007-2009, the proportion of retail visits made by children under age 18 decreased, from 26.8% to 22.2%, while the proportion of visits made by those 65 or older increased, from 7.5% to 14.7%. In both study periods, 30%-40% of the patients who visited a retail clinic paid for their care out of pocket and reported having a primary care physician.
Acute care visits made up a smaller proportion of overall visits in 2007-2009 than in 2000-2006. The same 9 conditions accounted for the vast majority of acute care visits in both time periods. The distribution of acute and preventive care visits was similar for children and adults under age 65.
The authors say that the "rapid growth of retail clinics makes it clear that they are meeting patients' needs." They believe that the chief drivers are convenience, after-hours accessibility, and cost effectiveness.