Op-ed: Retail clinics are the answer to ER overcrowding, costs

WASHINGTON Meeting patients' needs and providing access to care may be as simple as expanding retail clinics' presence, an op-ed published in The Washington Post suggested.

Addressing such emergency room issues as overcrowding because of nonemergency patients (i.e., sprained ankle or seasonal allergies) and lack of patient-physician relationships in hospitals, one route to reduce the uptick in ER visits is the implementation of retail clinics, the op-ed proposed. According to a study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine, "overall costs of care for episodes initiated at retail clinics were substantially lower than those of matched episodes initiated at physician offices, urgent care centers and emergency departments."

And while overcrowded emergency rooms are nothing new, such a cost-effective alternative may be the solution. In another study cited in the op-ed, "the average expense for an ER visit was somewhat higher for metropolitan statistical areas than other less urban areas," implying that retail clinics will aid those underserved and densely populated areas. Furthermore, the same study found that ER visits were five times more costly to patients than when they visited a retail clinic or office setting on a median basis.

Additionally, The Washington Post suggested that enhancing the role of other caregivers, including nurse practitioners and physicians' assistants, may aid the healthcare-delivery system moreso than patients that solely depend on a primary care physician.

The answer, according to the Annals study, is simple: "retail clinics provide less costly treatment than physician offices or urgent care centers... with no apparent adverse effect on quality of care or delivery of preventive care."

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