8 Ways to Compete Successfully With Retail Clinics

Leigh Page


February 19, 2019

In This Article

Patients Attracted to Time and Cost Savings

Still, patients may see things differently than physicians.

In various polls, patients have shown that they're satisfied with the degree of care they get at retail clinics. Patients appreciate the time and cost savings offered by retail clinics. In fact, wait time for an appointment is the most important factor in care-seeking decisions, and so primary care practices should consider their appointment policies, probably more than in the past.

The wait time before an appointment is available tends to be the largest determining factor in a patient's choice to go to a retail clinic, according to a 2010 study in the Annals of Family Medicine.[1] The wait at some primary care offices can be long: About one quarter of primary care patients had to wait 6 days or more for an appointment, according to 2013 survey by the Commonwealth Fund.[2]

If you're concerned about losing patients to retail clinics—especially if you're also competing with other primary care practices—here are some useful actions to take.

1. Educate Patients as to What They're Actually Getting

Physicians and staff should help patients appreciate the limits and goals of retail clinics and encourage them to report to their physicians the care they receive at these outlets. That way, the primary care physician has a more complete record.

A 2010 study found that the quality of care in retail clinics was as good as care in a physician's office for three low-acuity conditions: otitis media, pharyngitis, and urinary tract infection.[3]

Explain to [patients] the significance of having a personal physician. Your physician can put your immediate situation in context.

It's also wise to educate patients about the advantages of going to a regular primary care practice. LeRoy says patients still need to understand that retail clinics' episodic care does not replace the ongoing care patients get in a doctor's office. "Explain to them the significance of having a personal physician," he says. "Your physician can put your immediate situation in context."

For example, says LeRoy, retail clinics in many Walgreens and CVS stores offer A1c tests to determine whether patients have diabetes. If the A1c test indicates prediabetes, patients should definitely discuss options with their PCPs.

"Patients need to understand that [retail clinics] can only provide primary care in special or minor situations," a family physician noted in a comment to a 2015 Medscape article on retail clinics.[4]

Also, patients should be encouraged to report their retail visits to their physicians, because many retail clinics will not pass on this information to the PCP. When doctors are in the dark about the patient's condition, care is can be disrupted.

If you don't wish to explain the benefits of a primary care practice during the patient visit, you might want to have a brochure in your office, or even send an email to patients, talking about how you appreciate the personal relationship you have with them, and how well you can serve them as their primary care doctor.

2. Extended Hours Are the Biggest Draw

Many primary care practices could benefit by adopting some of the appealing attributes of retail clinics. One major factor is the ready availability of appointments.

Like the stores they're located in, retail clinics are open 7 days a week, into the evening. Most primary care practices would have difficulty meeting that schedule. Still, even if they can't replicate that schedule, it's possible to offer extended hours in the evenings and often on weekends, too.


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