Walk-in health clinics found at big-box stores and chain pharmacies have been around for about a decade, and growing in popularity. Such retail clinics are likely to continue as an option for new patients seeking primary care under federal health reform.
According to a trade organization for retail health clinics, in 2010, Wisconsin had about 45 locations, putting it in the top three states per capita for such health outlets.
The population using such clinics -- and who's running them -- has changed over the years. The share of investor-owned clinics fell during the recession, while the proportion of clinics owned by hospital systems doubled. The most common partnerships are with pharmacy chains staffed by nurse practitioners and physician assistants.
The American Medical Association has taken a tough stance against retail health clinics, but the Wisconsin Medical Society has no formal position, according to CEO Rick Abrams.
“The reality is that health care delivery -- and indeed, health care payment -- is changing. It is moving, if you will, downstream. It is very, very clear that the public likes retail clinics,” he said.
According to the Center for Studying Health System Change, the number of people using retail clinics tripled between 2007 and 2010. The Center's Alwyn Cassil notes the clinics only represent a very small part of the market. “It's rapid growth but still: retail clinics remain outside the mainstream of the (more traditional health) delivery systems.”
An analysis by the Center for Studying Health System Change found the biggest reason people went to retail clinics wasn't for vaccinations or prescriptions, but rather diagnosis and treatment of a new illness. Another finding: young families were more likely to use retail health clinics, as were those who couldn't afford care or had previously put it off.