Study Questions Effect of Retail Clinics on Health Care Cost Hikes
Retail clinics are less expensive for patients than care received in a physician's office or an urgent care clinic, but there is not yet evidence that increased use of retail clinics has led to a reduction in overall health care costs, according to a Health Affairs study published on Tuesday, the Minneapolis Star Tribune reports.
For the study, Marcus Thygeson, an associate medical director at Minneapolis-based HealthPartners, and colleagues examined 628,513 episodes of care, 3.2% of which occurred at MinuteClinic facilities, for members between 2003 and 2006.
Researchers determined the overall cost per episode of care, which included the cost of a medical examination and laboratory and pharmacy costs, for five conditions -- sore throats, ear infections, sinus infections, conjunctivitis and urinary tract infections.
Researchers compared the overall cost per episode of care that occurred in 2003, before MinuteClinic became part of the HealthPartners network, with those that occurred from 2004 to 2006.
The study found that the overall cost per episode of care for the five conditions increased by 14.1% during the four-year period. The average cost per episode of care for the five conditions increased by 20.3% in emergency departments, 12.7% in physician offices, 11.9% at urgent care centers and 12.2% at MinuteClinic facilities during the four-year period, the study found.
Thygeson said, "The data does not support the idea that MinuteClinic or other retail clinics has had any negative impact on rising health care costs."
According to the Star Tribune, the study "went against the conventional wisdom that more providers leads to more competition and lower prices" (Yee, Minneapolis Star Tribune, 9/9).