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Local health clinics addressing unmet health care needs, driving up overall health care costs

Written by Diane Archer

Over the last several years, local health clinics have been springing up to meet consumer need. Many believed these clinics could improve access to care while bringing down costs. But, a new Health Affairs study reveals that they are driving up use of health care services and, in the process, overall health care costs.

As an alternative to hospital emergency rooms and doctors’ offices, patients can now visit health clinics in grocery stores, pharmacies and big-box stores throughout the country. These visits are far more convenient for most people and far less costly. But, they have become more than a substitute for care that would otherwise be received elsewhere. They are leading to the delivery of more health care services.

More than six million patients use the almost 2,000 clinics across the United States each year. The clinics are meeting an untapped demand for services. People are using them who would not have gotten care had these clinics not been available. In 2012, almost six out ten clinic visits, 58 percent, were for new services.

Rather than reducing health care spending, the clinics increased overall costs by an average of $14 a patient in 2012. Given that the U.S. spent $8927 on average per person on health care costs in $2012, the $14 seems a small amount more to pay to meet people’s health care needs.

The jury’s still out as to the net value of these clinics. For sure, they offer convenience and a better experience and lower cost for minor health care needs than a hospital emergency room. They tend to have short wait times. These clinics also may be helping to ensure people get immunizations and other preventive services they need. So, while the clinics are increasing overall costs, they may be keeping people healthier and reducing their need for costlier care down the road.

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