How Retail Clinics Will Help Resolve the Physician Shortage

November 10th 2015
Meghan Ross, Associate Editor
Meghan Ross, Associate Editor

With projections of physician shortages, patients could be left with gaps in their care. That's where retail clinics come in.

With projections of physician shortages ranging from 46,000 to 90,000 in the next decade, patients could be left with gaps in their care. That’s where retail clinics come in.

The increasing demand for primary care is fueled in part by the millions of Americans newly insured under the Affordable Care Act, as well as the baby boomer generation reaching old age.

The Association of American Medical Colleges estimates that there will be a shortage of primary care physicians totaling anywhere between 12,500 and 31,100 in the next 10 years. Meanwhile, the US population will increase by about 30.8 million by 2025, and the number of Americans over 65 will increase by 46%.

“The impending physician shortage is an opportunity to move to a health care model where the physician can be more of a quarterback on a team of health care providers, rather than being on the front lines,” David Gorstein, managing director of Health Innovations, toldThe Chicago Tribune.

If primary care physicians are the quarterbacks, then nurse practitioners and physician assistants at retail clinics can be the back-up quarterbacks.

Self-employed patients without health insurance and those who would have to wait several weeks to get an appointment with their primary care physician can head over to their local retail clinic to seek more immediate care.

Patients like retail clinics’ transparent pricing and low costs in general,The Chicago Tribunenoted. Weekend and late-night hours also attract patients. Furthermore, retail clinics are well-equipped to handle chronic diseases such as diabetes or asthma.

Don Goldmann, chief medical and scientific officer at the Institute for Healthcare Improvement, toldThe Chicago Tribunethat retail clinics play an important role on the health care team and provide “easier access to providers and quick, convenient care.”

A recent report from Manatt Health determined that retail clinics’ long-term impact will depend on their ability to integrate into the health care team and their economic realities.

Key findings from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation study included raising awareness that retail clinics can be a good alternative to the emergency room for after-hours care, and that they are adept at routine primary care, especially vaccinations, for children older than 18 months.

The report also suggested that clinics should work with their state and local governments to open new facilities in underserved communities. These retail clinics could help provide health insurance enrollment assistance, nutrition, and even housing support.

According to a 2010 health tracking household survey, the main reasons families chose a retail clinic in the last year were convenient hours, no need to make an appointment, convenient location, lower costs, and no usual source of care.

The report praised several retail clinics’ foray into chronic care programs. For example, MinuteClinic offers diabetes management that provides biometric screenings such as glucose, hemoglobin A1C, blood pressure, weight and foot exams, and weight management counseling programs. MinuteClinic also offers asthma maintenance therapy education.

Likewise, Walgreens’ Healthcare Clinics offer treatment and management for hypertension, high cholesterol, and asthma.

The study authors highlighted how one retail clinic’s emphasis on chronic care contributed to a rise in the percentage of visits for screening and management of chronic conditions from 4% in 2007 to 17% in 2013.

“As the nation’s health care system enters a period of profound change, these clinics offer an important locus of patient access within large retail establishments,” the study authors wrote.

Retail clinics are currently available in 40 states plus Washington, DC.

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