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Retail health clinics aren't cutting healthcare costs: 8 observations

Retail health clinics may be increasing health costs, instead of lowering them, based on a Boston-based Harvard Medical School study, according to CNBC. Health Affairs published the study.

The researchers analyzed visits for 11 types of "low-acuity" conditions.

Here are eight observations:

1. Retail health clinics have resulted in increased use of medical services.

2. The researchers found three-fifths of the visits were labeled as "new utilization," indicating the patients would not have received treatment if the clinics weren't available.

3. About two-fifths of the visits were considered "substitution" treatments, in which the patients would have otherwise received more expensive treatment from emergency rooms or their primary care physicians.

4. The authors found the increased spending for "new utilization" visits outweighed the savings seen from "substitution" visits.

5. The retail clinics did not cut spending, but contributed to 21 percent higher spending for low-acuity conditions. Individually, patients saw about a $14 increase per visit.

6. The researchers concluded retail clinics encourage people to use more medical services.

7. About 2,000 retail health clinics provide treatment throughout the United States, offering care to about 6 million visitors annually.

8. The results question whether other alternative, low-cost healthcare approaches, like telehealth, may also result in overall higher health spending.

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