Retail care clinics-typically a nurse practitioner offering fast patient access to a limited number of clinical services in a pharmacy or other type of retail store-are now an accepted part of the provider mix in the United States. At least two studies published by credible organizations consider retail care clinics, also called convenient care clinics, to be an important source of care.

One study was released by the Center for Studying Health System Change, based in Washington, DC. Using data from the Health Tracking Study funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation which included 18,000 telephone interviews, this study looked at the use of retail care clinics. It stated that 1.2% of American families reported visiting a retail care clinic in the past 12 months. By contrast, 2.3% of American families said that they have used a retail care clinic in recent years.

What Dark Daily found notable about this study is another finding by researchers. Uninsured families represent 27% of the users of retail care clinics, and the slowdown in the number of new convenient care clinics opening may inhibit access to care through this channel. “If the growth of retail clinics falters, underserved groups already facing access pressures may suffer from the loss of alternate sources of care more than the rest of the population,” stated researchers in the study.

This is an interesting turn of affairs. Dark Daily readers may recall that, several years ago, in the early days of the convenient care clinic movement, the business model of a nurse practitioner and a limited menu of clinical services providing care in a retail store came under plenty of criticism. Now, some healthcare researchers are acknowledging that retail care clinics do provide useful clinical services, at an affordable price, that benefit the uninsured.

The second study, released by the Deloitte Center for Health Solutions, conducted an on-line poll of 3,000 adults in a nationally-representative sample and found that 16% reported that they had used a convenient care clinic located in a retail store. Interestingly, 17% of the uninsured and 11% of the Medicare enrollees in this survey had visited a retail care clinic. At a minimum, the survey results demonstrate that a significant portion of the American public is aware of these in-store clinics and is willing to use them.

Optimistic predictions that there would be 10,000 retail care clinics by 2010 will not come true. Starting in 2006, there were 60 retail care clinics in 18 states. The Convenient Care Association says the number of such clinics in the United States now totals approximately 1,150 retail care clinics in 38 states.

However, despite the slowdown in the rate at which new convenient care clinics are opening, this service delivery model seems to have established itself as a permanent fixture in the American healthcare system. Last summer, Dark Daily reported that Wal-Mart was introducing telemedicine access to a physician at the retail care clinics it operates in multiple Wal-Mart locations in Houston, Texas

Dark Daily believes that, as demonstrated by the telemedicine example at Wal-Mart’s convenient care clinics in Houston, there will be a steady expansion in the range of clinical services offered at these sites. It is highly likely that laboratory testing will be needed to support these additional clinical services. As that happens, these retail clinics will become both a threat and an opportunity for the nation’s laboratories.

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