Massachusetts Medical Society: The Retail Clinic Movement: A Disruptive Threat or Opportunity for Physician Practices?

The Retail Clinic Movement: A Disruptive Threat or Opportunity for Physician Practices?

Retail clinics offering immunizations and treatment of common respiratory illnesses, skin conditions, and ear, nose, and throat problems are increasing in popularity. These clinics offer consumers health care services, sometimes in 15 minutes or less, at a convenient location, such as big-box discount stores, grocery stores, and pharmacies. More recently, the clinics — typically staffed by nurse practitioners (NPs) and physician assistants (PAs) — have expanded into the business of treating chronic conditions such as asthma, diabetes, and high cholesterol. Recent changes in Massachusetts law eliminated many public protections in regulations of these limited service clinics, but does prohibit the clinics from serving as primary care providers. The retail clinic concept trends away from the conventional model of primary care delivery and creates challenges for primary care providers, such as a decrease in patient volume and proper tracking of patient care.

What Can Physicians Do?

Determine Why Your Patients Are Using Retail Clinics Rather than Coming into the Office.

Many organizations have started to analyze their patients’ reasons for seeking care at a retail clinic. One physician practice recently indicated that upon informally surveying patients, they found that their patients required access during nights and weekends. The practice has since started focusing on putting a plan in place in order to address patient concerns around access, with a focus on the particular issues that historically have attracted patients to seek retail clinics over their doctor’s office. Most notably, practices are now offering same-day appointments, extended office hours, or walk-in hours to treat certain medical conditions. When considering expanding access, it is advisable to review utilization and call volume — strategically expanding access can allow a practice to meet the need while minimizing the financial impact. A little research and process enhancement can go a long way. Keeping an eye on seasonality is also advisable.

Track Retail Clinic Activity.

Focus on incorporating a question like “Have you visited a retail clinic recently” into the check-in process. You may be unaware that a patient received care and may not know what course of treatment was recommended. This is another opportunity to ask the patient why they chose to seek care in a retail clinic. Practices should consider tracking how many patients visit retail clinics and follow up with them to find out how to better serve them. You may find that when patients are educated, they may be more likely to call your office next time around.

Pay Attention to Emerging Care Models.

Staying on top of the current trends in health care is important as the industry continues to evolve at such a rapid pace. Pay close attention to changes in payer policies, regulatory requirements, and other changes that may impact the way you conduct business. Contact the Physician Practice Resource Center (PPRC) today to learn what we can do to help you stay on top of the most current health care trends. Visit us online at

— Talia Goldsmith
PPRC Advisor

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