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Despite Rapid Growth, Retail Clinic Use Remains Modest

Share of American Families Using a Retail Clinic Nearly Tripled Between 2007 and 2010; Convenience Most Often Cited as Reason for Using a Retail Clinic

News Release
Nov. 7, 2013

Alwyn Cassil (202) 264-3484 or

WASHINGTON , DC—The proportion of American families using a retail clinic in the previous year nearly tripled between 2007 and 2010 from 1 percent of U.S. families in 2007 to 3 percent in 2010, according to a national study released today by the Center for Studying Health System Change (HSC) and funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF).

In 2010, an estimated 4.1 million American families reported using retail clinics in the previous 12 months, compared to 1.7 million families in 2007, according to findings from HSC’s 2010 Health Tracking Household Survey, a nationally representative survey funded by RWJF with information on 17,000 people.

When asked why they chose retail clinics over other care settings, most clinic users cited convenience factors, such as extended operating hours, walk-in visits and a convenient location, the study found. However, uninsured and low-income families were much more likely to cite lower cost and lack of a usual source of care as reasons for choosing retail clinics.

With insurance expansions under national health reform expected to pressure primary care capacity in many communities, retail clinics may play a larger role in providing basic preventive and primary care services. Some retail clinics also are expanding their scope to encompass services like chronic condition management.

“It’s an open question whether retail clinics will grow beyond their current limited role in the health care delivery system and finally emerge as the widespread ‘disruptive innovation’ that some have long predicted,” said HSC Senior Researcher Ha T. Tu., M.P.A., coauthor of the study with Ellyn R. Boukus, M.A., an HSC research analyst.

The study’s findings are detailed in a new HSC Research Brief—Despite Rapid Growth, Retail Clinic Use Remains Modestavailable here.

Other key findings include:

  • Families who reported not getting or delaying needed medical care in the past year (4.6%) were more than twice as likely to visit a retail clinic as families without such access problems (2%). Younger families—those with a family respondent aged 18-49—and families with children also were more likely to use retail clinics.
  • Almost three in five clinic users said the clinic’s convenient hours were a major factor in choosing it over another source of care. The ability to receive care without an appointment (56%) and a convenient location (48%) also were commonly cited as major reasons for choosing retail clinics. More than four in five clinic users cited at least one of these three convenience factors as a major reason for choosing clinics, and almost one in four cited all three.
  • Nearly seven in 10 clinic users reported that the primary purpose of their most recent clinic visit was the diagnosis and treatment of a new illness or symptom. Other less common reasons cited by clinic users were vaccinations (26%) and prescription renewals (21%).
  • As retail clinics expand across the country, part of the uptick in use reflects consumers’ growing geographic access to clinics. In 2010, for example, nearly three in 10 U.S. families lived within five miles of a clinic—up from 23 percent in 2007.
  • Increasing geographic access to retail clinics was somewhat skewed toward higher-income families: 37 percent of families with incomes at least six times the poverty level lived near a retail clinic in 2010 compared to 25 percent with incomes no more than twice the poverty level—presumably reflecting clinic operators’ decisions to locate in more-affluent communities.
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The Center for Studying Health System Change is a nonpartisan policy research organization committed to providing objective and timely research on the nation's changing health system to help inform policy makers and contribute to better health care policy. HSC, based in Washington, D.C., is affiliated with Mathematica Policy Research.



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The Center for Studying Health System Change Ceased operation on Dec. 31, 2013.