There's a big problem with walk-in clinics

Minute clinics sound like the ideal: You pop into a drugstore, remember that you need a flu shot, and just like that you’re on your way out — no need to stop by a full-blown hospital.

But in a fairly unexpected twist of events, they’re not saving the healthcare industry any money. A study published in the journal Health Affairs suggests that walk-in clinics actually aren’t that useful, since the majority of people (58%) who use them do so to get seen for mild symptoms that typically go away without treatment, like sore throats or coughs.

Additionally, when combined with other forms of preventive care and the cost of patients substituting regular doctor’s visits for trips to these clinics, the visits accounted for an increase of $14 a person per year on healthcare spending.

According to the report, there are now 2,000 retail clinics in everything from your local Walgreens to your local grocery store. The theory behind putting these in was that by locating healthcare providers where people already were, they were more likely to treat ailments or opt into preventive measures than they would be if they had to make an extra stop to a hospital or primary care doctor.

To that end, the retail clinics are working: The study found that 42% of those using the clinic had substituted it in for services they would otherwise go to a primary care doctor or emergency room for.

But that cost-saving tactic didn’t overcome the amount of people who frequented the clinics for ailments that might not otherwise have needed treating.

Going forward, the public health researchers suggested investigating what happens when minute clinics start to replace doctors for more chronic conditions, like diabetes. It could also be interesting to find other settings for the same kinds of convenience (walk-in appointments, extended hours, etc.) at doctor’s offices and emergency room visits.

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