Despite saving the patient some money, retail clinics have not reduced total medical costs, according to a study published in Health Affairs. And while their convenience, quick service, lower cost, and transparent pricing have won over consumers who use them, researchers from HealthPartners who reviewed utilization trends, patient mix, and cost per episode of care for the five conditions most frequently treated at a retail clinic chain in the Minneapolis-St. Paul area found that overall health care costs for the targeted episodes continued to increase in the population at an average rate of 4.5 percent per year.
These increases were mostly attributed to increased costs per episode, with only a small increase in the number of episodes in a population with a fixed size.
Marcus Thygeson, MD, vice president and medical director for consumer health solutions at HealthPartners, says, “We found the total cost for care for these five episodes has not gone down. We’re not convinced that use of retail clinics is going to be a cost-saving measure. From the perspective of a health plan medical director looking at population health costs, it’s not clear to us that these clinics will [save money].”