Retail medical clinics can provide quality care at lower cost

Retail medical clinics located in pharmacies and other stores can provide care for routine illnesses at a lower cost and similar quality as offered in physician offices, urgent care centers or emergency departments, according to a new RAND Corporation study.

The study, the first to assess the quality of care provided in retail medical clinics in the United States, compared the care provided in different settings for patients with middle ear infections, sore throats and urinary tract infections. Researchers found no difference in the quality offered to patients visiting retail clinics, physician offices and urgent care centers, but retail clinics did slightly better than hospital emergency departments.

The American Academy of Pediatrics and other physician groups have raised concerns about the quality of care provided at retail clinics, including whether the clinics might be likely to overprescribe antibiotics and limit preventive care by disrupting normal doctor-patient interactions. The RAND study found no evidence to support the concerns. The study is published in the Sept. 1 edition of the Annals of Internal Medicine.

In the study of quality of care, researchers examined the experiences of 2,100 patients treated at retail clinics in Minnesota during 2005 and 2006 for middle ear infections, sore throats or urinary tract infections. Those patients were compared to similar patients treated for the same ailments in physician offices, urgent care centers or hospital emergency departments.

“These findings provide more evidence that retail clinics are an innovative new way of delivering health care,” said lead author Dr. Ateev Mehrotra, a professor at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine and a researcher at RAND, a nonprofit research organization. “Retail clinics are more convenient for patients, less costly and provide care that is of equal quality as received in other medical settings.”

RAND researchers found that there are almost 1,000 clinics in the United States and that about one-third of urban Americans now live within a 10-minute drive of a retail medical clinic, further evidence the clinics can provide care to a growing number of Americans.

Retail medical clinics are walk-up medical providers typically located in drug stores and other retail chain stores such as Target and Wal-Mart rather than in medical facilities. Care most often is provided by nurse practitioners rather than by physicians.

Retail clinics initially did not accept insurance, but now most accept both private insurance and Medicare, and more than half also accept some form of Medicaid.

Source: RAND Corporation, USA



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