The Rise of the Retail Clinic

Though still a tiny part of the nation’s healthcare system, retail clinics have gained a satisfied constituency. In a Wall Street Journal Online/Harris Interactive survey, 7 percent of adults said they or an immediate family member have used such a clinic — up from 5 percent last year, but matching the number saying the same in 2006. Among those who use the clinics (typically situated in chain stores and staffed by nurse practitioners and physicians assistants), 90 percent said they’re satisfied with the quality of care they received, including 57 percent “very satisfied.”

While acknowledging their convenience, the public at large remains wary of retail clinics. Sixty-five percent agreed (including 29 percent agreeing strongly) with the statement, “I would be worried about the qualifications of the staff that provides care in a health clinic not run by medical doctors.” Fifty-seven percent disparaged them as “just another way for big companies to make more money.”

It’s not as though people who use the clinics are going to them for brain surgery. Asked to identify the sort of treatment they got on their most recent visit to a retail clinic, 40 percent cited vaccinations and 39 percent mentioned “treatment for a common medical condition like an ear infection, cold, strep throat, skin rash or sinus infection.” Twenty-four percent went for a preventive screening for conditions like high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes or allergies.

One other tidbit from the survey portends increasing use of retail clinics: There was a significant rise in the proportion of clients who said their insurance covered some or all of the costs they incurred there — from 42 percent last year to 62 percent this year.