The use of retail medical clinics is rising swiftly, and a new study finds the clinic users tend to be younger, wealthier and in better health overall than their peers who went to a physician's office or an emergency room for care.
Use of retail clinics skyrockets
Rand Corp. researchers found that the use of retail clinics rose 10-fold between 2007 and 2009, based on a review of data for 13.3 million commercially insured patients younger than 65. During the period studied, 3.8 million members of that population made at least one clinic visit. The researchers' findings are published in the latest issue of the American Journal of Managed Care.
The researchers from Rand—which has examined retail clinics in several studies and reports—also found that the clinics can be used to manage some common health problems such as upper respiratory infection, bronchitis, ear infection, flu and conjunctivitis. Clinic users were more likely to be female, younger than 44, and living in ZIP codes with median incomes of more than $59,000, the study found.
Visiting a clinic tended to be at least 30% cheaper than going to a physician's office and 80% less than visiting an ER. However, the overall cost implications for clinic use are still unclear because researchers could not tell whether patients' use of clinics represented new utilization or the shifting of care to cheaper providers.
The study was funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.
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