When it comes to modern healthcare, the name of the game is accessibility.
Over the past decade, retail-based clinics, or RBCs, have grown in popularity. Generally owned by pharmaceutical chains such as CVS and Walgreens, but now also popular in big-box retailers, these clinics are manned by a small team of physicians’ assistants and nurses with the intention of providing more accessible care for minor ailments and maladies that would otherwise require patients to schedule a short-notice appointment with a doctor.
These visits ensure same-day care for a lower price, particularly if a regular doctor’s visit would cost a patient upwards of $100 (for reference, an RBC visit usually costs between $40 and $70). While they are still in the minority, traditional healthcare practices are starting to open their own RBCs, not only to meet patient demand, but to avoid losing patients to their competitors.
It can, however, also be beneficial for the practice in question; by allowing RBCs to field minor patient concerns, it frees up doctors to treat patients in need of more urgent care. Some of these private practices integrate their telehealth systems into their RBC treatment with the goal of bridging the gap between their services and providing consistent and comprehensive care to their patients.
This model has yet to be adopted by many healthcare practices, who are now concerned that RBCs are stealing away their patients. Physicians has cited “disruption of care” and concerns about the quality of treatment as reasons that the rise of the RBC is problematic in the healthcare industry. With the modern need for strong care continuity, adding in the rogue element of outside care is worrying to some medical professionals.
However, among patient populations, these concerns have done little to deter their interest in RBCs. The percentage of patients that visit a retail clinic at least once a year is growing, and with the number of clinics more than doubling since 2010, it is unlikely that this trend is going away anytime soon. The desire for convenience has surpassed any potential reservations, and physicians will need to accept that their patients will no longer rely on them for all of their medical needs.
So how to address some of the weak points of RBCs? It turns out that the Convenient Care Association (CCA) has already strived to build relationships between clinics and traditional healthcare providers. The CCA is responsible for overseeing RBCs and promotes the sharing of patient information to ensure strong care continuity.
Additionally, the increasing prominence of telehealth systems could have a role to play in this dichotomy. Taking the concept of an RBC a step further, some direct-to-consumer platforms allow patients instant communication with a doctor without even needing to leave their homes. Other native systems created for healthcare providers can potentially offer ways for RBCs to pass information along to doctors and vice versa.
The dual trends of RBCs and telehealth platforms fill a similar need in that they give patients more options and lower costs when it comes to seeking treatment. Convenience is king, and patients will likely flock to these new services regardless of the approval of medical professionals. That said, RBCs are hardly back-alley doctor clinics; all are regulated, and studies have found that their quality of care is equal to or even surpasses that of traditional providers for acute ailments.
The ongoing challenge for healthcare providers will be to improve accessibility for their patients. Regardless of the methods that they use, it is likely that they will fall behind if they do not adapt to patient demand and the booming telehealth and retail care markets.