The number of retail health clinics nationwide will grow sharply in the next three years due to the influx of newly insured patients under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, according to new analysis.
Consulting firm Accenture predicted the number of walk-in medical facilities located in retail stores will double by 2015, from roughly 1,500 clinics now to 3,000 by 2015. The clinics are expected to account for 10 percent of non-primary care outpatient visits within three years.
Reform will trigger “a significant demand” from millions of newly insured patients, Dr. Kaveh Safavi, managing director for Accenture’s North America health business, said in a statement. PPACA is expected to bring in anywhere between 15-30 million newly insured patients in the next couple years.
“The convergence of retail convenience with walk-in care services will provide a ‘release valve’ for strained health systems as they handle the influx of new patients,” he said.
In its report out this week, Accenture said that historically, retail clinics experienced a five-year trend of rapid growth from 2003-2008, ranging from 50 percent to 92 percent annually during that time. But growth in the sector stalled, falling to just 2 percent per year from 2008-2012.
“Although primary care physicians and hospitals once regarded retail clinics as a business threat, in a post-reform landscape, they are viewed as critical to facilitating future growth,” Safavi said. “In fact, retail clinics will reduce capacity constraints by referring lower-acuity patients to clinics while ensuring hospitals have capacity for more complex cases.”
The clinics generally remain open for longer hours than a doctor’s office and on weekends, and are often staffed by nurse practitioners or physicians assistants instead of doctors. They are cheaper than a typical visit to the doctor’s office or emergency room and do not require an appointment. Drug chains CVS and Walgreens, as well as big-box retailers Wal-Mart and Target have been expanding their retail clinics.
A recent Harris Interactive/HealthDay poll from earlier this year found that popularity of walk-in retail clinics is growing among consumers, in part due to convenience, low cost and shortage of primary care doctors.
That survey found that 27 percent of all adults surveyed said they have used either walk-in retail clinics (19 percent) or work-based clinics (11 percent) to obtain medical care in the past two years. That’s up from just 7 percent in 2008.
Worksite clinics, which are generally offered by larger employers, also are a growing trend, especially as PPACA takes shape.
Consumers in the Harris/HealthDay poll said they were most likely to visit either a retail or work-based clinic for run-of-the-mill complaints such as colds or flu-like symptoms, minor cuts and wounds, and for routine needs such as flu shots, prescriptions and to check blood pressure or cholesterol.
Accenture said the growing number of retail health clinics is expected to drive $800 million in annual cost savings by 2015 and will add capacity for 10.8 million patient visits per year, compared to 5.1 million in 2011.