Retail Clinics Gain in Popularity

SHOREVIEW, Minn. — Retail clinics are on the rise, with 1,425 retail clinics found in drugstore and retail settings in 39 states, according to Merchant Medicine, a Shoreview-based retail clinic consultancy and market research company.

CVS-owned MinuteClinic, with locations in the company’s pharmacies, is primarily responsible, with a net gain of 67 retail clinics from Dec. 1, 2011, to Dec. 1, 2012. MinuteClinic now represents about 44 percent of retail clinics, with 620 locations, while Walgreens’ TakeCare has 362 locations.

A study published in the Journal of General Internal Medicine on Oct. 16 said patients trying retail clinics for simple acute conditions are much more likely to rely on them for similar issues in the future and are less likely to visit a primary care physician for any reason or to have two or more visits with the same primary care physician.

Analysts researched claims data from Aetna on 23,023 patients who received care for one of 11 simple acute conditions such as upper respiratory infections, sinusitis and otitis media at retail clinics in 2008, and they compared that data to 104,335 patients that received care for similar conditions from primary care physicians. About 88 percent of patients getting care for the 11 conditions involved retail visits by Aetna members from 2007 to 2009.

A similar analysis of the same insurance claims database was published in the September issue of Health Affairs, finding that patient traffic to retail clinics had doubled every year from 2007 to 2009, topping off at 6 million visits in 2009.

Because most of the clinics are about 400 to 600 square feet, there is not a lot of room for designers to create an inviting space. The basic set up includes a small reception desk or kiosk for registration, a waiting area, exam rooms, a lab area and a restroom. However, some have started getting creative. For example, at the Minnesota Skyway Clinic in Minneapolis, it has a reception area with floor-to-ceiling glass and white walls allowing for a well-lit open environment.

Despite any size restraints, the retail clinics are still gaining in popularity due to their range of care. No longer are they just seeing people for cold-like systems and minor injuries. MinuteClinic, for instance, offered free diabetes screening in November, and TakeCare now offers tests for hemoglobin A1c and microalbumin, both used in treating patients with diabetes. TakeCare also started providing fecal occult blood test to screen for colorectal cancer.

Most of the retail clinics are staffed and overseen by local hospital systems. MinuteClinic has partnered with several large health systems, including Cleveland Clinic, UCLA Medical Center and Indiana Univeristy Health. Depending on the deal, these affiliations allow the health systems to staff MinuteClinics and even get signage, as well as a chance to refer patients that may need more care.

As the clinics expand, there is a fear that they may disrupt the doctor-patient relationship, but there is still mixed evidence about whether or not that is true at this time.

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