Why patients choose walk-in clinics over doctors' offices

Low costs, convenience driving patients to nontraditional health care sites

Topics: Strategy, Health Systems, Market Trends, Outpatient Shift, Service Lines, Primary Care

June 19, 2013

Consumers looking to avoid the long waits and high prices of a visit to the doctor or ED increasingly are turning to nontraditional health care sites such as retail clinics and urgent care centers, the Los Angeles Times reports.

Retail clinics

In recent years, visits to the nation's largest retail clinics have increased significantly, and experts expect that trend to continue as the Affordable Care Act (ACA) takes full effect in 2014 and as the looming shortage of primary care physicians becomes a reality.

Retail clinics, which are often staffed by nurse practitioners and physician assistants, typically provide basic medical services, as well as vaccinations and physicals. A 2012 RAND report credited the clinics' popularity to their convenience, accessible hours and low costs.

Nancy Finn—author of "e-Patients Live Longer: The Complete Guide to Managing Health Care Using Technology"—notes that patients increasingly are using retail clinics to manage their chronic conditions.

Urgent care clinics

For injuries or ailments that need more immediate treatment, patients are turning to urgent care clinics as an alternative to waiting at an ED or in a doctor's office, the Times reports. There are about 9,000 such clinics in operation and another 300 opening every year, according to the Urgent Care Association of America.

Don Weber of PricewaterhouseCoopers notes that some employers have begun offering incentives to use urgent care clinics. Likewise, insurers are increasingly including the clinics in their provider networks.

Other walk-in clinics

Moreover, about one-third of large companies offer health clinics at or near the office. Often, employers offer discounts or waive co-payments for care at worksite clinics, Weber notes. Worksite clinics may also offer prescriptions at significantly reduced rates.

Additionally, there are 1,200 community clinics in the United States that offer a range of primary care, dental, mental health and pharmacy services to mostly low-income residents. Fees can range from $35 to $300, depending on the type of visit and an individual's income, according to Steven Abramson, marketing manager for the not-for-profit Community of Health Alliance of Pasadena.

"At the end of the day these clinics are a cheaper option than paying for a doctor," Abramson says (Zamosky, Times, 6/14).

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