Study Gives Retail Clinics ‘Thumbs Up’ for Care

September 3, 2009

This article is included in these additional categories:

Financial Services | Pharma & Healthcare | Retail & E-Commerce

The standard of care provided by walk-in medical clinics at retail stores is just as good and less expensive than care received in other traditional medical settings, according to research conducted by the Annals of Internal Medicine, Retailer Daily reports.

The study found that treatment received at retail clinics for three common illnesses was comparable to that received in physician offices, urgent care centers, and emergency departments, and at a lower cost to boot.

The study collected 2005 and 2006 health claims data from a Minnesota health plan and matched instances of otitis media (middle ear infection), pharyngitis (throat inflammation), and urinary-tract infection treated first in retail clinics. It compared them with instances of the three ailments treated first in physician offices, urgent care centers, and emergency departments.

Results indicated that overall treatment for these illnesses cost an average of $110 per clinic visit, compared with $166 at a physician office, $156 at an urgent care center, and $570 at an emergency room. On a percentage basis, retail clinics were 33.7% less expensive than physician offices, 29.4% less expensive than urgent care clinics, and 80.7% less expensive than emergency rooms.

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Meanwhile, retail clinics received a 63.6% aggregate quality score, slightly higher than the 61% score received by physician offices and 62.6% received by urgent care centers. Emergency rooms received a substantially lower aggregate quality score.

Retailers, especially in the drugstore, supermarket and discount verticals, are increasingly offering, running special promotions for, and expanding their walk-in health care services to include free medical tests and routine treatments, sometimes to those who are unemployed or who have no healthcare insurance.

Interestingly, a comparison of the locations of in-store neighborhood health clinics contained within the stores of Walgreens, CVS and Wal-Mart revealed that they are placing many of the clinics – which typically accept but do not require health insurance for treatment -? in select states with the highest percentage of residents without health insurance.

According to statistics released by the US Census Bureau SAHIE (Small Area Health Insurance Estimates) in October 2008, as of 2005, the US states with the highest percentage of residents under age 65 without health care are Florida, Nevada, New Mexico, Oklahoma and Texas. All these states reported between 20.9 to 26.3% of their residents under age 65 as lacking health insurance, compared with the national average of 17.2%. At age 65, Social Security-eligible US residents qualify for Medicaid health insurance sponsored by the federal government.

About the study: The study aggregated claims data from 2005 and 2006 into 700 care episodes each of otitis media, pharyngitis, and urinary tract infection, and compared episodes treated first in retail clinics with other episodes treated first in physician offices, urgent care centers, or emergency departments.

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