For the Basics, Retails Clinics Just as Good or Better Than Urgent Care or Emergency Rooms, Study Finds

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With a shortage of primary care physicians and the costs that come with a trip to the emergency room, can retail clinics fill the gap? A study published today in The American Journal of Managed Care finds they can, offering care that is just as good or better for common ailments like ear infections or strep throat.

For the Basics, Retail Clinics Just as Good or Better Than Urgent Care or Emergency Rooms, Study Finds


PLAINSBORO, N.J. — Can retail clinics, such as CVS Health’s MinuteClinic, offer the same level of care as such settings as the emergency room or an urgent care clinic? For common ailments like ear infections, strep throat or urinary tract infections, the answer is an unqualified “yes;” in fact, a new study shows retail clinics may be the best choice.

Researchers led by William H. Shrank, MD, MSHS, chief scientific officer at CVS Health, examined claims data from the insurer Aetna from 2009 to 2012 to find that when comparing quality measurements for treating these three common conditions, treatment in MinuteClinic locations was superior to that in urgent care or emergency room settings. The authors published their findings today in The American Journal of Managed Care. For the full study, click here.


“There is a need for high-quality health care delivery systems that can reduce the cost of care and increase convenience and access for patients in light of the primary care provider shortage,” said Dr. Shrank. “This data provides strong evidence that retail medical clinics, such as MinuteClinic, provide excellent care for common acute conditions when compared to more expensive locations such as emergency departments or urgent care facilities.”

The study is the largest to date evaluating the quality of care for common, acute conditions at retail clinics as compared with other settings, and the results corroborate previous findings.

To conduct the study, the authors used 14 measures from the RAND Corporation’s Quality Assurance Tools, as well as guidelines from the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Academy of Family Physicians, and the Infectious Disease Society of America. Evaluating data from more than 75,000 individual episodes of care, the researchers found that MinuteClinic performed better than the other settings in seven quality measures; in a multivariable analysis, MinuteClinic outperformed urgent care and emergency rooms across all quality measures. Five of the measures involved quality of care for ear infections, six were for strep throat and three for urinary tract infections (UTIs).

Using other data, the authors discussed whether the clinic location or the residency of the patients had any effect on the results. Data external to this study have shown that residents from low-income areas are more likely to seek care in emergency rooms than in retails clinics. However, the authors found that residency of the patients did not affect their findings. Of note, the authors only studied MinuteClinics operated by CVS, and they said results might not be applicable to other retail settings.

In an accompanying editorial, The American Journal of Managed Care calls for payers to examine barriers in insurance coverage that might prevent patients from using cost-saving options like retail clinics or urgent care.

About the Journal

The American Journal of Managed Care, now in its 20th year of publication, is the leading peer-reviewed journal dedicated to issues in managed care. Other titles are The American Journal of Pharmacy Benefits, which provides pharmacy and formulary decision makers with information to improve the efficiency and health outcomes in managing pharmaceutical care. In December 2013, AJMC introduced The American Journal of Accountable Care, which publishes research and commentary devoted to understanding changes to the healthcare system due to the 2010 Affordable Care Act. AJMC’s news publications, the Evidence-Based series, bring together stakeholder views from payers, providers, policymakers and pharmaceutical leaders in oncology and diabetes management. To order reprints of articles appearing in AJMC publications, please call (609) 716-7777, x 131.

CONTACT: Mary Caffrey (609) 716-7777 x 144