Walk-in retail clinics in drugstores and grocery stores can be an effective way to provide health care access for the poor and uninsured, but a new study suggests that “most retail clinics aren’t in the poorest neighborhoods,” the AP reports. Instead, “like most businesses, they go where the money is—to more affluent neighborhoods, which already happen to be well-served by other medical resources.” The clinics are open late and on weekends and typically “use nurse practitioners to give shots and treat minor ailments such as sore throats and rashes” at a cost of $40 to $75. Many of the clients do not have a primary care provider.
The study, published in Monday’s Archives of Internal Medicine, used U.S census data to define the income and racial makeup of the areas of most of the more than 1200 retail clinics in the US and found that few were “in areas defined by the federal government as medically underserved. One study author says the data “suggest financial incentives may be needed to lure the clinics to low-income neighborhoods” (Johnson, 5/25).
Reuters adds that the clinics are “fiercely opposed by some U.S. physician groups” but “clinic operators and some doctors see them as a potential solution to a serious national shortage of primary care doctors.” Peter Miller, who runs the company that operates clinics in Walgreens pharmacies, “said 20 to 30 percent of clinic customers pay in cash and are uninsured or underinsured,” while “more than 40 percent say if it were not for the clinic, they would have gone to an emergency department, an urgent care clinic or might not have sought treatment at all” (5/25).