Are retail clinics really used for convenience?

August 20, 2013

Parents with established relationships with pediatricians say they have used retail health clinics for their children because the clinics offer more convenient hours than their pediatricians’ offices. Yet according to a new cross-sectional survey, half of all clinic visits for children took place during normal business hours when one would expect pediatricians’ offices to be open.

Parents who have established relationships with pediatricians say they have used retail health clinics for their children because the clinics offer more convenient hours than their pediatricians’ offices. Yet according to a new cross-sectional survey, half of all clinic visits for children took place during normal business hours when one would expect pediatricians’ offices to be open.

Researchers from St. Louis had almost 1,500 parents waiting in pediatricians’ offices complete a questionnaire about their use of retail clinics-often in large, chain drug stores-for the health care of their children. They found that almost one-fourth of the parents had used a clinic at least once for their kids.

Compared with parents who did not use retail health clinics for their children, those who did were almost 8 times as likely to use them for their own care, twice as likely to have more than 1 child, and tended to be older.

Although three-quarters of those parents who went to the retail clinic thought about going to their pediatrician first, 37% chose the clinic because of more convenient hours, 25% went because no office appointment was available with their pediatrician, 15% didn’t want to bother their pediatrician after hours, and 13% thought the problem was not serious enough to go to their pediatrician.

Almost half the clinic visits were during business hours (8 am to 4 pm weekdays) or from 8 am to noon on the weekend. Most of the clinic visits were for acute upper respiratory illness, with over a third for sore throat (34.3%), over one-fourth for ear infection (26.2%), and one-fifth (19.2%) for colds or flu.

Fewer than half the parents who visited a clinic reported the visit to their pediatricians; 7.3% recalled clinic personnel saying that they would inform the patient’s regular pediatrician of the visit.

An editorial accompanying the study says that as the pediatric patient pool shrinks, pediatricians need to compete more effectively with clinics by offering periods of walk-in appointments, expanded office hours, individualized patient education, and by sharing probable costs with parents up front. 

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