Many have proposed that retail clinics—which provide health services from a few square feet carved out of grocery stores and pharmacies—could represent a means by which the poor and uninsured can access health care.
It turns out however, that few such clinics exist in poor neighborhoods.
According to a recent study, retail clinics follow the money to affluent suburbs, just like most businesses and for that matter, most health care providers.
Craig Pollock and colleagues at the University of Pennsylvania matched the zip codes of 930 retail clinics with US census data describing the income and racial makeup of these areas.
They found that only 123 clinics had been set up in areas defined by the Feds as medically underserved. Regions featuring at least one retail clinic had a lower percentage of Hispanic and Black residents, lower family income, and higher rates of home ownership.
The write-up appears in the Archives of Internal Medicine.
“Many people have promoted retail clinics as a cure for access to care for the underserved,” the University of Pittsburgh’s Ateev Mehrotra told the Washington Times. “These findings show that’s unlikely to happen.”
Pollock’s group concluded that financial incentives may be required to lure the clinics to underserved areas.
Retail clinics feature customer-friendly hours of operation and are usually staffed by nurse practitioners. They give immunizations and treat minor conditions such as skin rashes and upper respiratory illnesses. The services typically run between $40 and $75. Prices are usually posted.
Some, but not all retail clinics accept insurance. CVS Caremark and Walgreens are the largest operators of retail clinics. Together, they run about 1,200 of them. States with the highest numbers of retail clinics are Florida (with 147), then Texas, California and Illinois.