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What’s Driving Pediatric Use of Urgent Care & Retail Health?

The number of kids visiting an urgent care or retail health clinic increased from 21% in 2021 to 28 percent in 2022, CDC said.

More kids are accessing healthcare in a retail setting, with care access in grocery store clinics, pharmacy clinics, and urgent care centers up from 2021 to 2022, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR).

These figures reflect separate data showing the growing popularity of urgent care and retail health clinics, driven in large part by their convenient locations.

Using data from the National Health Interview Survey, CDC found that, in 2022, 28.4 percent of kids up to age 17 had visited a retail health clinic or urgent care center in the previous 12 months. In 2021, that number was 21.6 percent, the agency said.

This trend persisted across pediatric age subgroups, with the biggest increase seen in the 0 to 5 years age group. In 2021, visits to retail or urgent care clinics hung just under 20 percent. By 2022, that number increased to just below 30 percent, the data showed.

Kids ages 6 to 11 years old likewise saw an increase in urgent care and retail clinic visits, reaching 26.6 percent in 2022. For teenagers ages 12 to 17, that figure was 30.3 percent.

CDC did not dive into the reasons behind these increases, which could include increased care access needs among pediatric populations.

However, separate analyses may shed some light, specifically on patient and parental preference for urgent care and retail health clinics.

In March 2023, FAIR Health data showed that visits to retail clinics were up as patients forewent other care sites like ambulatory surgical centers and emergency departments (EDs) between 2020 and 2021.

In that first year of the COVID-19 pandemic, visits to retail health clinics increased by 51 percent and visits to urgent care centers by 14 percent.

Another survey of 1,000 adult healthcare consumers from Wolters Kluwer Health showed that 58 percent would be willing to access their care in a pharmacy or retail clinic setting, like a CVS MinuteClinic or the health clinics attached to Rite Aid and Walgreens.

Of course, those analyses included adult respondents, not the kids who were the subject of the CDC report. But adult parents and caregivers are usually making care access decisions for their children, linking the adult preference for retail health clinics with pediatric access.

These data points suggest a shift out of primary care to more convenient care locations. While it’s still pretty common for kids to have a primary care provider or another usual source of care—AHRQ estimated around 92 percent of kids had a usual source of care in 2014—more acute care needs outside of wellness visits may be increasingly likely to happen outside of the PCP’s office inside the urgent care or retail health clinic.

This is especially true as healthcare consumers continue to consider convenience and location when selecting a place to get care. A 2023 report from JLL, a company focused on real estate, showed that convenient location was the second-highest rated factor when deciding on where to access care, ranked only behind cost.

In particular, patient respondents proved eager to access healthcare at a retail clinic. Although 63 percent said they had not done this before, 72 percent said they would consider doing so. Only 29 percent said they would not consider visiting a retail clinic, and even fewer had visited one but would not do so again.

Consumer trends toward urgent care and retail health clinics raise a number of questions, not least of which concern health data sharing and care coordination. Although retail health clinics and urgent care centers offer a more convenient experience, they are often fragmented from the primary care that’s usually responsible for cultivating overall well-being.

As healthcare continues to toe the line between holistic and patient-centered care and a more convenient patient experience, it will be key to assess how different technologies and human processes can support streamlined care coordination.

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