Despite Rapid Growth, Retail Clinic Use Remains Modest

Research Brief No. 29

The proportion of American families who reported using a retail clinic in the previous year nearly tripled between 2007 and 2010, increasing from 1 percent of U.S. families in 2007 to 3 percent in 2010, according to a new national study by the Center for Studying Health System Change (HSC).

In 2010, an estimated 4.1 million American families reported using retail clinics in the previous 12 months, compared to 1.7 million families in 2007. When asked why they chose retail clinics over other care settings, most clinic users cited convenience factors: extended operating hours, walk-in visits and a convenient location. However, uninsured and low-income families were much more likely to cite lower cost and lack of a usual source of care as reasons for choosing retail clinics. As retail clinics expand across the country, part of the uptick in use reflects consumers’ growing geographic access to clinics. In 2010, for example, nearly three in 10 U.S. families lived within five miles of a clinic—up from 23 percent in 2007. This increasing geographic access was somewhat skewed toward higher-income families. Thirty-seven percent of those with incomes at least six times the poverty level lived near a retail clinic in 2010 compared to 25 percent of those with incomes no more than twice the poverty level—presumably reflecting clinic operators’ decisions to locate in more-affluent communities. Higher-income families were nearly twice as likely as lower-income families to use retail clinics.

Looking forward, with insurance expansions under national health reform expected to pressure primary care capacity in many communities, retail clinics may play a larger role in providing basic preventive and primary care services. Some retail clinics also are expanding their scope to encompass services like chronic condition management. However, it remains unclear whether such strategies will succeed and, more broadly, whether retail clinics will grow beyond their current limited role in the health care delivery system and finally emerge as the widespread “disruptive innovation” that some have long predicted.

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