Retail medical clinics provide patients and families a cost-effective approach to addressing minor aches and pains. But are they helping reduce emergency room visits and lowering health care costs? A new RAND Corporation study published by the Annals of Emergency Medicine suggests the answer is no.
"One hope for retail clinics was that they might divert patients from making high-cost visits to the emergency department for minor conditions such as bronchitis or urinary tract infections," says Grant Martsolf, the study's lead author. "But we found no evidence this has been happening."
Across the United States, there are nearly 2,000 medical clinics located in retail chain and drug stores, such as the CVS Minute Clinic and Walmart's Care Clinic, that offer urgent care services at a lower cost. They receive more than 6 million patient visits each year, offering a range of services, such as vaccines, lab testing, diagnoses and prescriptions written by a licensed nurse practitioner for common illnesses.
The services but did not appear to affect the number of patient visits at nearby emergency departments. In fact, researchers examined more than 2,000 emergency departments across 23 states during a five-year period and found no reduction in emergency department visits for minor aches and pains.
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