Convenience, cost driving more kids to retail clinics for care

Convenience and lower costs are driving even more parents to seek routine health care for their children - including vaccinations and physicals - at retail clinics in their communities.

What's more, the number of retail clinics is growing: Nearly 30 percent of parents report having a retail clinic in their community, making this emerging source of health care for children often simpler and more accessible than an appointment at a doctor's office.

These findings - released today by the University of Michigan C.S. Mott Children's Hospital National Poll on Children's Health - also reveal that in communities with nearby retail clinics, one in six parents have taken their children there for care, while one in four parents are likely in the future to take their children to a nearby retail clinic for care.

"We found that the vast majority of parents were taking their children to a retail clinic as a substitute for regular care, either at a doctor's office, emergency department or urgent care clinic," says Matthew M. Davis, M.D., M.A.P.P., director of the National Poll on Children's Health. "About half of the parents said they wanted to take care of their children's problems more quickly, which suggests to us that doctor's offices may not be meeting expectations of parents in terms of providing timely care."

The National Poll on Children's Health finds:

  • 78 percent of retail clinic visits by children were covered at least in part by health insurance.
  • If a retail clinic was not available, one in four parents report that they would have taken their children to the emergency room, while half would have gone to the doctor's office.
  • Nearly two out of three parents whose children had already used a retail clinic report that they were "likely" or "very likely" to use a retail clinic again.
  • Seven out of 10 parents who took their children to a retail clinic considered taking their child to the doctor's office. But 40 percent report they could not get an appointment at the doctor's office.
  • Among parents who had never taken their children to a retail clinic for care, one out of seven said they were likely to use a retail clinic for their children in the future.

Typically located within pharmacies, supermarkets or discount stores, retail clinics -also called in-store or convenience care clinics - have a lot to offer consumers: No need for an appointment, short wait times, lower costs than emergency rooms and some stand-alone urgent care clinics, and the ability to care for common health problems, including rashes, sore throats, pink eye, ear infections, and bladder infections. Plus, they are staffed by licensed health care professionals - nurse practitioners, physician's assistants and sometimes physicians.

Although many parents enjoy the overall convenience and ease of seeking care for their children at retail clinics, groups such as the American Academy of Pediatrics worry about the repercussions of children forgoing care at their doctor's office.

"The American Academy of Pediatrics is concerned that retail clinics interrupt the care that kids otherwise would receive from their regular doctors. When those interruptions occur in care, information about children's health problems - which their doctors need to know about - can slip through the cracks, and that can lead to worse health care for kids in the long run," says Davis, associate professor of general pediatrics and internal medicine at the U-M Medical School, and associate professor of public policy at the U-M Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy.

Retail clinics, Davis notes, differ in their approach to communicating with children's regular doctors. Most strongly recommend that parents follow-up with their child's doctor, and provide information about their child's visit to the retail clinic. In some cases, however, there is a more direct connection between the retail clinics and children's doctors. Davis also says the health care system - in some instances - is already taking steps to better integrate patients' medical records electronically, allowing them to be accessible at retail clinics and doctor's offices.

In a previous report about retail clinics - released by the National Poll on Children's Health in April 2007 - most of the children who have used retail clinics have an established physician and health care provider.

Similar to last year's report, the current poll also finds that the majority of retail clinic visits for children were covered, at least in part, by health insurance companies. In fact, 40 percent of visits were covered in full by health insurance.

For the complete report and podcast about poll results, visit the C.S. Mott Children's Hospital National Poll on Children's Health online at

Methodology: For its report, the National Poll on Children's Health used data from a national online survey conducted in April 2008 in collaboration with Knowledge Networks, Inc. The survey was administered to a random sample of 2,064 adults, ages 18 and older, who are a part of Knowledge Network's online KnowledgePanelSM. The sample was subsequently weighted to reflect U.S. population figures from the U.S. Census Bureau. About three-fourths of the sample were households with children.

To learn more about Knowledge Networks, visit

Purpose/Funding: The C.S. Mott Children's Hospital National Poll on Children's Health - funded by the Department of Pediatrics and Communicable Diseases and part of the CHEAR Unit at the U-M Health System - is designed to measure major health care issues and trends for U.S. children.


The opinions expressed here are the views of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of News Medical.
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