Understanding what’s driving the growth of retail clinics

Retail clinics aim to deliver the convenience employees seek from health care and are quickly becoming more prevalent across the nation.

As more employees prioritize convenient access to care, many are taking advantage of alternative outpatient care options, such as retail clinics. In fact, over the last 5 years, the use of retail clinics in the U.S. has increased by 200% — far outpacing the utilization of urgent care facilities, which grew by 70% in comparison.1

If we take a closer look at the growing number of retail clinics across the U.S., it’s clear that these sites of care are increasingly popular in the Midwest and Southeast regions.1 For instance, Louisville, Kentucky, has 2.72 active clinics per 100,000 residents as opposed to .08 active clinics per 100,000 residents in Salt Lake City, Utah.1

Drilling down even further, 7 states account for nearly half of the nation’s retail clinics: Texas, Illinois, Ohio, Florida, Georgia, Tennessee and California. That view shifts slightly when looking at the highest number of active retail clinics by metropolitan area, which includes Chicago, Illinois; Atlanta, Georgia; Dallas, Texas; Phoenix, Arizona; and Houston, Texas.2

So, the question remains: Why are retail clinics growing in popularity, especially within certain markets? While the pandemic certainly helped accelerate the adoption of nontraditional care settings, the convenience that retail clinics offer, paired with the right market dynamics, has allowed retail clinics to find their footing in the industry.

During the pandemic, it was difficult to find care through traditional settings as many were overwhelmed with COVID-19 patients.3 Retail clinics provided another avenue. In fact, many retail clinics became the primary place for vaccine administration and for COVID-19 testing, which was often free of charge due to federal government mandates.3 As a result, many consumers now associate retail clinics with offering quality cost-effective care, transparent pricing and multiple payment options.3

The widespread use of these clinics during the pandemic also provided the opportunity for consumers to become more comfortable with alternative sites of care, such as virtual visits or home-based care.

Another reason is the convenience retail clinics offer, as these walk-in clinics are often located within an established storefront, such as a big box retailer, pharmacy or grocery store — places employees tend to frequent regularly. They’re typically staffed by a nurse practitioner or a physician’s assistant, who can administer vaccines, field questions about medications and perform minor injury care, among other health services. These offerings, delivered in a convenient setting, make them attractive to employees seeking to avoid more time-consuming options like emergency rooms, urgent care facilities and primary care offices.

“We’re seeing more members choosing non-traditional sites of care like retail clinics out of convenience. They offer more flexible accessibility than traditional providers, which can be attractive to employees seeking care outside of normal work hours.”

— Karen Silgen, Vice President of Product, UnitedHealthcare Employer & Individual

And in certain markets — whether within metropolitan areas or the Midwest and Southeast regions, which dominate the space accounting for nearly 62% of all retail clinics — population density, challenges accessing traditional health care, and mature markets can make opening retail clinics more appealing.This can also be seen in some of the collaborations UnitedHealth Group and its companies, UnitedHealthcare and Optum, have established with nationwide retailers.

As the benefits of utilizing retail clinics continue to gain popularity among employees, employers may find themselves benefiting from this shift as well. Retail clinics can help break down barriers to accessing care, making it easier for employees to get the care they need. When employees regularly get the care they need, in a timely manner, an overall healthier workforce and improved productivity may be the byproduct. Plus, the cost of care at retail clinics for minor illnesses or injuries is often less expensive than a visit to urgent care or an emergency room — for employers and their employees.5

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