Study: Retail Medical Clinics Provide Quality and Savings

A new study from the RAND Corporation concludes that retail medical clinics provide quality health care and preventive services for routine conditions, and at a lower cost than other providers. 

With all the focus on health care reform and finding ways to deliver quality services at a lower cost, it's not surprising that the walk-in clinic model is a subject of great interest. A recently released study from the RAND Corporation sheds some light on this issue, finding that these outlets can provide care for routine illnesses at a lower cost and similar quality to that offered in physicians' offices.

For the study, published in the September 1 edition of Annals of Internal Medicine, researchers compared the care provided in different settings for patients with middle ear infections, sore throats, and urinary tract infections. They found no difference in the quality offered to patients visiting retail clinics, physician offices, and urgent care centers; retail clinics performed slightly better than hospital emergency departments (EDs).

Quality of care was judged using 14 indicators and whether patients received 7 preventive care services. Quality scores for retail clinics were equal to or higher than those in other care settings, with the exception that a smaller proportion of high-risk patients received a urine culture at retail clinics.

"These findings provide more evidence that retail clinics are an innovative new way of delivering health care," said lead author Ateev Mehrotra, MD, MPH, MS, a professor at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine and a researcher at RAND. The study also found no evidence that antibiotics were being overprescribed at retail clinics or that preventive services were being limited by a disruption in the normal doctor-patient relationship, 2 concerns raised by some physician groups, according to RAND.

On the cost front, researchers found the costs of treating acute illnesses at retail clinics were 30% to 40% lower than in physician offices or urgent care centers and 80% lower than in EDs. The differences were primarily caused by lower payments for professional services and lower rates of laboratory testing, according to the researchers.

The study, based in part on data from MinuteClinic, a subsidiary of CVS Caremark, was limited to insured patients at one clinic chain in Minnesota, the researchers point out. "We need to continue to examine retail medical clinics as they grow in number, but the results we have seen thus far suggest they provide high-quality care in a convenient and cost-effective fashion," Mehrotra said.

Andrew J. Sussman, MinuteClinic's president and chief operating officer, agrees: "As Congress debates health care reform and looks for ways to better manage overall health care costs, retail clinics should be looked at as a way to help achieve that goal."

For other articles in this issue, see:

Pharmacies Finding New Ways to Beat OxyContin Robbers

Rx Groups Align Against Medicaid Reimbursement Ruling

NCPA: New Privacy, Security Rules Will Burden Pharmacies