Have retail clinics improved your access to healthcare?

Amy Shea, a certified nurse practitioner, works at the MinuteClinic inside the CVS in Woodbury, Dec. 23, 2014. Mark Zdechlik / MPR News

MPR News reporter Mark Zdechlik writes that high out-of-pocket costs and convenience are fueling retail clinic growth. Do you use retail clinics?

From Zdechlik’s reporting:

Retail clinics save people a lot of money, said Tine Hansen-Turton executive director of the Convenient Care Association, an industry trade group.

“Our average cost is about $75 per encounter,” she said. “That’s manageable, versus showing up in an emergency room or an urgent care.”

In those places, she said, patients likely would have to pay up to $600 in out-of-pocket costs.

Hansen-Turton said one out of four emergency room visits could have been handled in a retail clinic.

Retail clinics staffed with physician assistants or nurse practitioners are reshaping American health care, said Christopher Kerns, who tracks health care trends for the Advisory Board Company, an industry-funded research group.

“I’d say they’re changing health care delivery,” he said. “I wouldn’t say they quite revolutionized it just yet, but they certainly have the potential to do so and they seem to be in the process of doing so.”

Kerns said retail clinics are needed to help keep up with demand for health care driven, in part, by the Affordable Care Act’s requirement that people carry health insurance.

“There are more people seeking care and fewer primary care physicians to see them,” he said. “Those two forces together seem to be fueling a lot of this new demand for retail and urgent care.”

While retail clinic operators say they want to complement physician care, some national doctors’ groups have come out against them.

“My recommendation to patients is, call your doctor first,” said Robert Wergin, president of the American Academy of Family Physicians. Wergin, a Nebraska doctor, said people who choose retail clinics miss out on important benefits of having a doctor who knows your various health concerns.

“The downside is [the loss of] that continuous relationship-based care and then the lost opportunities to maybe address other issues because we have that relationship and I have your chart,” he said.

Today’s Question: Have Minute Clinics improved your health?