Retail Clinics are Booming

Visits to retail clinics, increased 10-fold from 2007 to 2009. That’s according to a new study from the Rand Corp. These clinics offer vaccinations and treatments for common, minor health problems beyond the traditional weekday hours kept by most doctors’ offices.

There are now an estimated 1,360 retail clinics across the U.S. This is up from six in 2001, according to Merchant Medicine; a consulting company in Shoreview, Minn. Retail clinics are part of what’s called walk-in medicine. It’s a niche that also includes urgent-care centers. Costs for services at retail clinics are 30% to 40% cheaper than the same services rendered at a doctor’s office, and 80% less expensive than at a hospital emergency room, said Scott Ashwood, lead author of the report and a Pittsburgh-Pa.-based Rand Corp. analyst.

Many major retailers, pharmacy chains and big-box stores such as Target (NYSE:TGT), Kroger (NYSE:KR), CVS/pharmacy (NYSE:CVS) and Wal-Mart (NYSE:WMT) offer on-site clinics. Researchers examined Aetna health-insurance claims for 11 acute conditions, which together accounted for 88% of acute-care visits to retail clinics. But even though studies show the quality of care at retail clinics is generally good for their limited services, not everyone embraces their rising popularity. Some doctors are concerned that clinics erode the doctor-patient relationship and compromise continuity of care.

“Retail clinics run the gamut from small outfits to national chains. Some retailers own and operate them while others lease them out to medical groups. Walgreens offers more than 350 Take Care Clinics in select locations. CVS/pharmacy has MinuteClinics in 24 states and the District of Columbia. Kroger and Target also offer in-store retail clinics. More than 140 Walmart stores have retail clinics through partnerships with local hospital systems and medical groups, according to Merchant Medicine,” according to MarketWatch.