Getty Images

Retail Health Clinics Gain Favor Amid Healthcare Consumerism Trends

More than half of adult patients would visit a retail health clinic in a pharmacy, underscoring trends of healthcare consumerism.

The scales are tipping in favor of retail health clinics, especially the ones set up in pharmacies, as consumerism in healthcare changes the landscape of care access, according to a new survey report commissioned by Wolters Kluwer, which PatientEngagementHIT received via email.

The survey of more than 1,000 healthcare consumers in the US showed that 58 percent of patients are likely to visit their local pharmacy to get basic types of non-emergency healthcare. That includes the likes of CVS MinuteClinic or the retail health clinics in Rite Aid or Walgreens.

“As we saw in last year’s survey, primary care decentralization is continuing – the traditional one doctor-one patient, single point of coordination is vanishing, and this is especially evident in younger generations,” Peter Bonis, MD, chief medical officer at Wolters Kluwer Health, said in a statement.

Over half of Gen Z and Millennial respondents (56 and 54 percent, respectively) said they’d like to visit the pharmacy to get care. That compares to just 40 percent of Gen X and 35 percent of Boomers who said the same.

That moderate generational divide signals that preference for retail health clinics is likely here to stay. Healthcare industry stakeholders need to adjust to that shift now.

“By preparing for this shift today, providers can work in concert across care sites to deliver the best care to patients,” Bonis explained. “Likewise, newer care delivery models, like retail pharmacies and clinics, can ensure they’re ready to meet the expectations of healthcare consumers, who will increasingly be turning to them for a growing range of care needs.”

That said, patient access to care in retail health settings is entirely dependent upon the type of care patients are seeking. Notably, pharmacies are popular locales for vaccinations, with 62 percent of adults saying they’d go to a pharmacy-based retail health clinic to get themselves vaccinated.

Still, consumers are still more comfortable with childhood vaccinations happening inside a doctor’s office, with 54 percent of respondents saying they’d rather visit the pediatrician.

What’s more, healthcare consumers are not yet comfortable with every retail health clinic site. While consumers expressed interest in visiting retail clinics that are located inside pharmacies, they had less trust in those located in big box stores, like a Walmart or Target. Eight in ten respondents said they would probably never visit a big box store for healthcare.

Patient preferences for pharmacy-based retail health access largely rest in the fact that patients trust their pharmacists. Most consumers, especially those managing chronic illness and filling many prescriptions, see their pharmacists more often than they do their own doctors, helping to lay the groundwork for a trusting patient relationship.

To add to that, patients said they believe their pharmacists are looped into their care, with two-thirds saying they believe their pharmacists have access to and check their medical records before filling a prescription at least half the time. The survey could not corroborate whether that health data access actually happens, however.

And considering the convenience factor and the fact that retail clinics offer non-emergency care, patients said they are generally unconcerned about a provider’s credentials. A third of respondents said they value convenience over credentials in non-emergency situations, although that sentiment is less common among Boomers. This could lay the groundwork for expanding some scope of practice for pharmacists.

Although patients are becoming more enthusiastic about retail health clinic access, they are still having some trouble at the pharmacy counter, the survey found. Cost is still a problem, with 37 percent of respondents saying they declined to fill a prescription because of the high price tag.

A sizeable 86 percent of respondents said they’d take a generic medication if it meant saving money, and most (92 percent) think it’s the provider or pharmacist’s job to inform patients of this possible cost savings. Still, only around a third (36 percent) said they’ve talked to their pharmacists about cost-cutting strategies in the past few months.

The survey also broached the topic of over-the-counter medications, particularly giving OTC designation to certain prescriptions that are widely used and commonly found to be safe. The survey found that 76 percent of consumers are in favor of this, and 74 percent think it would help lower costs without compromising patient safety. This comes in the context of the OTC birth control debate.

Patient preferences for retail health clinics and more accessible, pharmacy-based care could be evident of the larger industry trend toward healthcare consumerism. Patients, largely responsible for paying for their own healthcare, are experiencing the convenience offered in other services. That is changing their expectations for healthcare, most experts say.

Making non-emergency medical care accessible in pharmacies helps add the coveted convenience factor to the overall consumer experience.

Next Steps

Dig Deeper on Patient data access

xtelligent Health IT and EHR