8 Ways to Compete Successfully With Retail Clinics

Leigh Page

Disclosures

February 19, 2019

In This Article

Take Back Business From Your Local Retail Clinics

Retail clinics have emerged near many primary care practices and have attracted many patients. Even when these clinics are not quite a competitive threat, physicians say they can disrupt relationships with patients by providing parallel care that is often unaccounted for.

These outlets use nurse practitioners stationed in pharmacy and grocery chains to treat low-acuity conditions. Retail clinics have brand names, such as MinuteClinic, The Little Clinic, and RediClinic.

"As a family physician, I'm not afraid of retail clinics taking my business away," says Gary LeRoy, MD, president-elect of the American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP). "Family physicians tend to be very busy and generally do not have trouble finding patients."

However, "one of our main concerns with retail clinics has to do with patients' welfare," he says. "Will they get the care they need there?"

Retail Medical Clinics Are Still Going Strong

Retail clinics have grown unevenly across the country after their start more than 15 years ago. In some parts of the country, practices can't afford to ignore them, whereas in other parts—especially rural areas, but also some major states and metro areas—they're generally unknown.

The states with the most retail clinics are Texas, Florida, Ohio, Illinois, and Tennessee, according to as-yet-unpublished 2018 survey results provided by Merchant Medicine, a consultant for convenience-based care, located in Shoreview, Minnesota.

The data show that Texas has 176 outlets, the most of any state, but California, which has 11 million more people, has only 65 retail clinics.

Meanwhile, Chicago is the metro area with the most retail clinics—132 of them—but the New York City area, which has twice the population, has only 60 outlets.

Differences in the penetration by retail clinics are partly a matter of state laws, which often restrict use of nurse practitioners, though very few states directly regulate retail clinics.

The differences may also be due to business strategies. For example, Chicago is the home base of Walgreens, which hosts many retail clinics. On its home turf, Walgreens is in stiff competition with CVS, the largest purveyor by far of retail clinics. CVS has a MinuteClinic in one in eight of its stores, according to Merchant Medicine.

Even in metro areas with a lot of retail clinics, they tend to be concentrated in suburban areas. Their customer base tends to be higher-income people who live in the suburbs, Merchant Medicine reports. Typical customers are young, two-income couples who have little free time, and they often have young children with pediatric issues that can't wait.

Often, if patients have to wait many days for an appointment at their physician's office, they may decide instead to go to a retail clinic for such issues as coughs, sore throats, sinus infections, bladder infections, and children's ear infections.

In these cases, LeRoy says, the retail clinic treats patients for the immediate condition, but may not seek the underlying causes, which a primary care physician (PCP) who knows the patient is more likely to be aware of.

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