NEW YORK — Findings from a pair of studies reveal positive trends for retail health clinics.
A recent Harris Poll for Nielsen on patients visiting in-store clinics might hold vital information for retailers focusing on health and wellness, and a study conducted by the Blue Cross Blue Shield Association (BCBSA) found retail health clinic visits climbed from 12.2 visits per 1,000 members to 24 visits per 1,000 members during the 2011-2015 period of the study, done in tandem with Anthem Inc. subsidiary HealthCore.
Retail health clinics had a 19% average annual growth rate in visits over the five years, compared with less than 1% for doctor’s office and emergency room visits.
Of more than 2,200 U.S. adults surveyed by the Nielsen study, nearly 20% had visited a retail health clinic within the last year. At the same time, the study revealed some eyebrow-raising findings for retailers in terms of clinic visitors’ demographics.
According to the study, 29% of respondents from households with children reported having visited a retail health clinic in the 12 months, with 56% of those going to the clinics primarily for treatments. But those respondents, Nielsen noted, also said they were more likely than other shoppers to visit the retail health clinic for physical exams and health counseling. While visiting the clinic, 71% of those same shoppers/patients said they also made an in-store purchase afterward, with 45% buying over-the-counter medicine and 40% buying personal care items.
However, that trend was even greater among Hispanic consumers, according to Nielsen. Over the 12 months, 35% of Hispanic shoppers visited a retail health clinic for such services as flu shots, health screenings and physicals. Eighty-six percent made a purchase after their clinic visit, with 55% purchasing O-T-Cs and 47% buying personal care products.
The rise in retail health clinic visits, according to the BCBSA study, was driven by members with employer-provided health insurance, whereas clinic use has lagged among members who purchased health insurance via Affordable Care Act marketplaces since they began offering coverage in 2014. ACA-insured consumers had 19% lower usage of retail health clinics than members with employer-provided insurance, the study found.
At the same time, doctor’s office and ER visits by ACA-insured consumers rose. The growth rate in retail health clinic visits per 1,000 members in the ACA-insured market was 2.6%, compared with 15.5% for physician’s office and 35.8% for ER visits, BCBSA reported.
“Although they comprise only a small portion of all outpatient services, retail clinics are becoming increasingly popular options for those seeking affordable care,” Maureen Sullivan, chief strategy and innovation officer for BCBSA, said in a statement. “Surprisingly, despite facing higher out-of-pocket costs for ER visits, individually insured members appear to be underutilizing retail clinics.”
Millennials also proved to be an important demographic, according to the Nielsen study, with 26% of Millennial consumers having gone to a retail health clinic in the preceding year — 46% reporting going primarily for treatments. The Millennials also said they were more likely than other shoppers to have gone to the clinic for health assessments, physicals and counseling. Nielsen said Millennials are nearly twice as likely to buy food, personal care items and cleaning supplies during their visit.
As the number of clinics grows — projected by Accenture to pass 2,800 by the end of 2017, up 47% from 2014 — retailers have an opportunity to boost customer spend and loyalty by leveraging clinic interactions to influence what consumers buy in the rest of the store during their visit, Nielsen said.
Since making their debut in 2001, retail health care clinics, though they offer convenience for consumers, have often struggled to make a profit, according to Accenture.
But that profitability gap is now closing, Accenture reports, as more companies introduce a variety of innovations that promise future profitable growth — so much so that, based on these changes, the latest analysis of retail clinic growth from Accenture points to a resurgent industry going forward. Specifically, Accenture forecasts 14% annual growth through this year. By the end of 2017, there will be upwards of 900 more clinics than the 1,914 there were in 2014.
A shift in focus is the reason for the changing landscape in retail health clinics, Accenture explains. Typically, Accenture points out, retail clinics are located in mass market retailers, supermarkets and drug stores, and these in-store clinics originally offered a limited scope of services treating low-acuity or seasonal medical issues. BCBSA noted that these more than 2,000 retail clinics across the country could pare health care costs by absorbing minor acute care visits to the ER.
According to the BCBSA study, 29.8% of ER visits in 2015 were for minor acute conditions that could be addressed at a retail clinic. About 70.7% of retail clinic visits involved minor acute care — such as upper respiratory conditions, ear infections, urinary tract and dermatological conditions, conjunctivitis, gastrointestinal ailments and headaches — compared with 25.3% of doctor’s office visits. Of retail clinic visits for minor acute care, nearly 49% were for upper respiratory conditions, and almost 10% were for ear infections.
Today, according to Accenture’s analysis, companies have begun to focus on the “retail” elements of this equation, emphasizing the clinical by expanding services, investing in capabilities and teaming up with other health value-chain players to grow patient volume. These changes are having a profound impact on the overall profitability of these clinics and will serve as a key driver of future growth, Accenture finds.