Research & Commentary: Health Care Retail Clinics

Published September 8, 2008

Affordable, convenient health care has become more available to average Americans as a result of the proliferation of so-called “retail clinics.”

A resurgence of the failed effort to establish “store-front clinics” in the 1980s, retail clinics are growing in number across the nation. These clinics, which offer basic acute care services and preventive care options, provide cost transparency to their customers with clearly posted prices and on-the-spot fee-for-service billing. Many clinics accept insurance, as well, charging standard co-payments for care.

Not only do retail clinics provide convenience to consumers — they are often located in shopping centers, pharmacies, or multipurpose stores like Wal-Mart — but they also provide a non-emergency room and non-community-clinic option for uninsured Americans to receive preventive care and treatment for minor illnesses.

Retail clinics empower people to take control of, and responsibility for, their own health needs. In-store clinics offer an excellent opportunity for health care reform; policymakers should not only acknowledge their role in health care provision but also be careful not to create laws that stifle these innovations.

Some experts believe the retail clinics are catching on because of the shortage of family physicians. Within the next 15 to 20 years, the deficit is expected to reach as many as 200,000 physicians — 20 percent of the needed workforce, according to Dr. Richard Cooper, a professor of medicine at the University of Pennsylvania. “The success of the new retail clinics (now) is more likely because there’s a doctor shortage,” he said.

“[The spread of retail clinics] will mean that [family physicians] will have to evaluate how convenient their practices are for patients, and will most likely need to make some changes to be more user-friendly,” said Dr. Larry Fields, president of the American Association of Family Physicians.

The number of retail clinics operating in the U.S. has surged in the past three years, from fewer than 50 in 2005 to more than 1,000 today. These clinics are expected to expand their scope of treatments in upcoming months and years to include chronic disease management, injections (some already offer influenza vaccinations and other injection services), weight loss counseling, and more.

For more information on this topic, the following articles may be of interest.

Adding Health Care to Your Shopping List: The Emergence of In-Store Clinics,com_docman/task,doc_download/gid,915/
This Flint Hills Center for Public Policy article explains how retail clinics offer an excellent opportunity for health care reform … and warns policymakers against legislation that might slow their growth.

Expanding Access Through Retail Health Clinics
This Health Care News story from June 2007 describes how the retail health clinic model is a simple, effective innovation for providing care for routine medical conditions and preventive care.

Expect Retail Health Clinics to Expand Scope of Practice
The American Association of Family Physicians explains how retail clinics can fill a market need and allow physicians to spend time and resources treating more serious cases and patients.

Retail Clinics Expanding Nationwide
Retail clinics contribute to public health in at least three positive ways: by providing more convenience for patients, by giving patients quicker access to health care, and by offering treatment at a lower cost.

Parents Like Retail Clinics for Kids
“The vast majority of parents are taking their children to a retail clinic as a substitute for regular care, either at a doctor’s office, emergency department or urgent care clinic,” according to the National Poll on Children’s Health.

Mayo Clinic Enters Retail Care Business
“Primary care is going retail,” says Devon Herrick, a senior fellow at the National Center for Policy Analysis in Dallas. “Patients are acting more like consumers and demanding convenient access to a health care provider, without having to make an appointment a week in advance and drive across town, only to wait in a doctor’s office.”

Doctor-Staffed Retail Clinics to Open
American Medical News reports more health care organizations are opening retail clinics in Minnesota and around the country, including several staffed with physicians.

Convenience of Retail Clinics Drawing More Kids in for Care
Convenience and lower costs are driving even more parents to seek routine health.

For further information on retail health clinics, you can visit The Heartland Institute‘s Web site at, where you will find articles on the issue available through PolicyBot, Heartland’s free research database.

Nothing in this message is intended to influence the passage of legislation, and it does not necessarily represent the views of The Heartland Institute. If you have any questions about this issue or the Heartland Web site, you may contact Brian Costin, assistant director of government relations, at 312/377-4000 or [email protected].