News Feature | November 29, 2016

Study Finds Retail Clinics Supplement Non-Emergent ED Care

Christine Kern

By Christine Kern, contributing writer

EHRs With Clinical Decision Support Provide Better Care

Despite rise in retail health clinics, non-emergency visits to Emergency Departments remains steady.

Despite the proliferation of retail health clinics, non-emergency visits to emergency departments remain steady, suggesting retail clinics supplement rather than supplant non-emergent ED care according to a study in the Annals of Emergency Medicine.

Study authors write, “Convenience settings create new use for three reasons: they meet unmet demands for care, motivations for seeking care differ in EDs and convenience settings, and groups of people who are more likely to use EDs for low-acuity conditions do so because they have little access to other types of care, including convenience settings.”

Retail clinics have achieved major market penetration, having increased from 130 in 2006 to almost 1,400 in 2012, resulting in a third of the nation's urban population living within a 10-minute drive of a retail clinic, according to the American College of Emergency Physicians.

While these clinics don’t seem to be reducing ED visits, they are being utilized by patients, thus increasing overall healthcare use which poses implications for efforts toward value-based care. Ultimately, retail clinics have filled a new niche in the healthcare marketplace by providing convenient after-hours access to growing demand for healthcare without requiring an associated physician relationship.

“Retail clinics may emerge as a way to satisfy the growing demand for health care created by people newly insured under the Affordable Care Act, but contrary to our expectations, they do not appear to be leading to meaningful reductions in low-acuity emergency department visits,” concluded lead author Grant Martsolf of the RAND Corporation. “Although the growth in retail clinics has been significant in recent years, the only decrease in low-acuity visits to emergency departments was seen among patients with private insurance, and that decrease was very small.”

Editorial author Jesse Pines, FACEP, of the George Washington University School of Medicine and Health Sciences concludes, "The answer is not to build more convenience settings, but to improve the value of existing settings by increasing the connectivity among providers and with longitudinal care.”