by Loren Bonner
, DOTmed News Online Editor | October 17, 2013
Retail clinics have grown tremendously since they started cropping up in chain drug stores like CVS and Walgreens back in the early aughts. There are roughly 1,400 retail clinics nationwide and that number is expected to grow to 2,800 by 2015, according to the consulting firm Accenture.
But competition abounds for retail clinics. During a health care summit last week organized by Forbes, panelists discussed how instant access to medical care is changing the business of health care. Independent urgent care centers, which can treat more serious conditions, are growing alongside retail clinics. Academic medical centers have taken notice too and have begun bringing specialized urgent care centers to patients.
Retail clinics, which are normally staffed by nurse practitioners, treat walk-in patients for common ailments like ear infections and bronchitis. Although public and private insurance is accepted for the most part (retail clinics are also included in some private plans on the state-based health exchanges), paying out-of-pocket is normally less expensive than it would be at a doctor's office, emergency room or even an urgent care center. Some insurers have even begun to waive co-pays for retail clinic visits. But what is most attractive to consumers is the convenience: getting medical treatment after-hours or on weekends and avoiding long waits at the doctor's office or emergency room.
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"Retail clinics are not going anywhere," said Dr. Andrew Sussman, senior vice president and associate chief medical officer at CVS' MinuteClinic. He said that MinuteClinics alone will grow to 1,500 clinics by 2017. They also plan to expand their scope of services to include telehealth services and wellness counseling.
The popularity of retail clinics has even caught the attention of big health systems like the Cleveland Clinic, which formed a partnership with MinuteClinic a few years ago to place Cleveland Clinic doctors inside select MinuteClinics.
Partly in response to the success of retail clinics, urgent care centers are finding a place in this market of convenient, walk-in health care. Urgent care centers are normally freestanding and similar to retail clinics except they provide additional services, like X-rays, for more serious conditions. They also have a board-certified physician on staff, which is one reason for the markup in price compared to retail clinics — and even some primary care doctor's offices.
"[Urgent care centers] are like the MinuteClinic plus," said Traver Hutchins, CEO of ASAP Urgent Care, a chain of urgent care centers in the New England region. He said that urgent care centers also fill a void in the American health care landscape and will grow in the coming years, especially as more Americans gain coverage under the Affordable Care Act (ACA). With more people insured under the ACA, access to primary care physicians, who are already in short supply, could decrease. This could lead to an increased demand in both retail clinics and urgent care centers.