Retail clinics: Improved care at a lower cost

WHAT IT MEANS AND WHY IT’S IMPORTANT Retail clinics. Save. Money. Without regard to who’s footing the bill exactly — healthcare payer or Jane Patient — retail clinics not only represent a significant cost savings across the board, but by siphoning nonemergency-yet-still-urgent cases out of the emergency rooms and doctors’ offices, retail clinics also can contribute to improved care across the healthcare continuum.

(THE NEWS: Study: Retail clinics save nonemergency patients money. For the full story, click here)

All told there were 119.2 million total ER visits in 2006, up 8.2% as compared with 2004, according to ACEP. Extrapolate that figure with WellPoint’s finding that 19.4% of those visits may be for nonemergencies across the entire nation, and the fuzzy math equates to an approximate 23.1 million non-emergency patients presenting across some 3,833 ERs. For whoever is paying for the cost of care, that’s an expenditure totaling $10.2 billion if every case were to present at an ER; as compared to $1.2 billion if every case were to present at a retail clinic. That’s the cost savings piece.

But cost savings aren’t the only benefit retail clinics afford the overall healthcare system —  there’s a general improvement in care. According to the American College of Emergency Physicians, average waiting times for patients triaged with non-emergency ailments at emergency departments range between one and two hours, but only when the ER isn’t crowded. That’s like saying that bee stings don’t hurt, you know, except when they do.

Let’s face it, in a nation of 309 million and counting, there are simply not enough points of care, be it for an emergency or nonemergency situation. Taking nonemergency visits out of emergency rooms would likely improve the efficiency of care for more critical patients, as well as the experience of care for noncritical patients. That’s the improved care piece.

Improved care at a lower cost, that’s what retail clinics bring to the table.

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