Retail Clinic Visits and Receipt of Primary Care

A public health debate is ongoing with respect to the consequences of retail clinic use.


Reported here are findings about patient care subsequent to retail clinic use; the authors examined three categories: primary care visits, continuity of care, and preventive practices.

Upon developing new symptoms, when patients’ first contact with the health care system was through a retail clinic, the patients were 25 percent less likely to make subsequent visits to a primary care physician (PCP).

Controversy surrounds the question of whether retail clinics, those located inside pharmacies or grocery stores, are beneficial or detract from patient-physician relationships. Some physicians and policy-makers see danger in substituting retail clinic use for primary care. However, patients who use retail clinics usually lack other health care options.

This study uncovers the effects of retail clinic use on three basic functions of primary care over a 12-month period. First-contact care refers to the initial encounter after a patient reports a new illness. In addition to first-contact care, the authors examined how retail clinic use affected continuity of primary care, preventive care and diabetes management. The data sample included more than 367,488 retail clinic patients and more than 1 million, who did not visit the clinics, all of whom filed claims with Aetna from 2007-2009.

Key Findings:

  • First contact with a retail clinic disrupted continuity of care with a PCP.
  • Patients’ engagement in preventive care was unaffected by retail clinic visits.

Researchers interested in the consequences of retail clinic use, will find here a behavioral comparison of its effects on three components of patient care: first-contact, continuity, and preventive.