Retail clinic patients less likely to have PCP

October 15, 2008

A RAND study indicates that convenient care clinics serve a population that commonly does not see a primary care physician regularly

It appears likely that retail clinics will grow in number and become more popular with patients, according to a study by the RAND Corp.

“Despite all the controversy over retail clinics, no one had described on a national scale, who goes to these clinics and for what reason,” says Ateev Mehrotra, MD, MPH, of the University of Pittsburgh. The goal of the study, reported in the September/October issue of Health Affairs, was to fill that gap in knowledge.

“Our findings supported the idea that retail clinic patients are less likely to have a PCP compared with the general population and that they go to retail clinics for simple acute conditions as well as immunizations,” Dr. Mehrotra says. “We conjectured that these patients would likely prefer convenience over the inconvenience of missing work and seeing their PCP.”

Other highlights of the findings:
• Retail clinic patients were most likely to be young adults and adolescents
• Retail clinic patients appear more likely to be uninsured

“These findings can help inform healthcare executives with some decisions they might face,” Dr. Mehrotra explains. “Executives need to make a decision on whether their health plan should cover retail clinic visits and, if so, whether to charge enrollees the same copayment as patients pay for a physician’s visit.

“We find that retail clinics are serving a population not being well served by PCPs and so for these patients their alternative choice of care might be an ED,” he continues. “Based on that information, an executive could make the decision to cover care at retail clinics. For those executives who work at a delivery system, our findings can help inform them whether they should open up their own retail clinic. Our data can help them understand who goes to retail clinics and what services could be provided.”