Signs continue to point to tipping point for retail clinics

WHAT IT MEANS AND WHY IT'S IMPORTANT — The signs that the convenient care industry has hit a significant tipping point in 2012 just keep on coming.

(THE NEWS: Study: Older patients, preventive services on rise at retail health clinics. For the full story, click here)

With the growth of consumer-driven care and more burden for managing costs falling on patients’ shoulders, the retail clinic visits continue to rise, clinic operators continue to open locations and services continue to expand beyond treating acute ailments. And patients are clearly responding.

As the most recent Rand Corp. study stated, visits to retail medical clinics increased four-fold from 2007 to 2009, with the proportion of patients older than 65 years of age growing from 8% to 19% of all visits during this period. Visits to retail clinics reached 5.97 million in 2009, up from 1.48 million in 2007.

According to the study, the proportion of retail clinics visits made for acute medical problems dropped from 78% to 51%, and there was a corresponding increase in visits for preventive care, making up more than 47% of visits by 2009.

Researchers also noted that retail clinics have started promoting new services such as caring for chronic illnesses, including diabetes, and that if demand for primary medical care drives longer wait times to see a physician — like it has following healthcare reform in Massachusetts — then retail clinics could see even greater demand going forward.

As previously reported for Drug Store News, Massachusetts lawmakers just passed a massive healthcare bill that brings expanded scope of services, in such areas as monitoring of chronic diseases and prevention and wellness offerings, to patients of limited-service clinics — marking not only a significant milestone for the state’s healthcare system but also for the convenient care industry at large.

“We authorized the establishment of limited-service clinics back in 2008 in healthcare legislation that we passed and we left to the Department of Public Health the responsibility of coming up with regulations governing them. I think some aspects of the medical society certainly weighed in heavily on the development of those regulations because the type of things that the limited-service clinics could do was seriously restricted, particularly prevention and wellness activities, which nurse practitioners are very good at and they are certainly skilled in providing and they couldn’t do a lot of them,” Sen. Richard Moore and an author of the bill told Drug Store News.

The new definition of limited services in Massachusetts includes diagnosis treatment, management and monitoring of acute and chronic disease, and wellness and preventive services, all within the scope and practice of nurse practitioners.

The Rand study does not capture the impact of a push made by retail medical clinic operators beginning in 2010 to increase the services offered for chronic illnesses; however, we think it is a pretty sure bet that a future study on the impact of such services will reveal positive results — very positive.

What are your thoughts on the future direction of retail-based health clinics?