Retail Clinics Attracting Older Patients: Study

SANTA MONICA, Calif. — Fast-growing retail medical clinics are attracting more older patients and delivering more preventive care, particularly flu shots and other vaccinations, according to a new study from the RAND Corp., a nonprofit research organization here.

Researchers found that visits to retail medical clinics increased fourfold from 2007 to 2009, with the proportion of patients over age 65 growing from 8% to 19% of all visits during this period. More than 44% of visits to the clinics occurred on the weekend or other hours when physician offices typically are closed, suggesting retail clinics meet a need for convenient care, according to the study, published online by the journal Health Affairs.

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"Retail medical clinics continue to grow rapidly and attract new segments of users," said lead author Dr. Ateev Mehrotra, an associate professor at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine and a researcher at RAND, in a statement. "They remain just a small part of outpatient medical care, but appear to have tapped into patients' needs."

While retail clinics have begun promoting new services such as caring for chronic illnesses such as diabetes, it remains uncertain whether demand for the clinics will continue to grow as the federal Affordable Care Act is enacted. "If demand for primary medical care drives longer wait times to see a doctor as it has following health care reform in Massachusetts, then this could drive greater demand for convenient alternatives such as retail clinics," Mehrotra said.

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