Retail Clinics Save Money (and Don't Overprescribe Antibiotics)

An elegant study in this week's Annals of Internal Medicine shows that in Minneapolis patients who went to retail clinics for ear infections, sore throats, and urinary tract (bladder) infections had lower overall health care costs than those seen in physician offices, urgent care centers, or emergency departments. (Abstract) (Harvard full text)They also did not have lower rates of preventive care visits over the 3 months after the retail clinic visit. The retail clinics are in pharmacies, and there has been concern that they will overprescribe antibiotics. The amount of antibiotic prescriptions in the retail clinics was not substantially different than the rate from physician offices or urgent care centers.

So - here's something that works. Retail clinics are a disruptive innovation, since the retail clinics are not able to perform the full range of services performed by a physician's office. They are designed to be able to do a "good enough" job to meet a limited set of needs. This study suggests they are succeeding. It also does not appear that they are a death knell for continuity.

Even so, retail clinics have not expanded as much as expected, even though insurance plans are increasingly providing full coverage for their services.