One of the most important health care innovations of our time may not be a miracle drug or a new scanning machine, but something much more prosaic: big box clinics. Since the early 2000s, chains like CVS have experimented with in-house primary care clinics, but now retailers are beginning to scale the concept up. Some predict the number of clinics will double over the 2013–15 period. This development should make cost-conscious consumers very happy, as the WaPo explains:
A study by [Dr. Ateev] Mehrotra and colleagues published in 2009 in the Annals of Internal Medicine looked at 700 episodes of each of three common conditions—inflammation of the middle ear, urinary tract infections and pharyngitis, an infection that causes most sore throats. Using 12 quality-of-care measures, it found that treatment was “similar for retail clinics, physician offices and urgent care centers, and lower for [emergency rooms].” The costs of care for each episode averaged $110 at retail clinics, $166 at doctors’ offices, $156 at urgent care centers and $570 in emergency department […]Transparency in pricing is one way in which retail clinics reflect growing trends in health care, said Ceci Connolly, managing director of PricewaterhouseCoopers Health Research Institute. “The price is just out there on a giant board” for consumers who want to comparison shop for care the way they shop for other services, she said.
As this story notes, the American Medical Association opposes the big box clinic idea, which shouldn’t be surprising, given their interests. Fortunately, opposition to clinics hasn’t kept consumers from using them.Health clinics aren’t a panacea for what ails our health care system; nor are they a one-stop shop for every individual’s health care needs. But as a large primary care setting complementing the work of doctors and hospitals, clinics can make our lives more convenient and our paychecks stretch further. Americans so far seem to appreciate this, and big box clinics are expanding to meet the rising demand.