Emergency room visits for non-emergency illnesses and injuries have marginally decreased over a five-year study period despite a rapid increase in retail medical clinics in US stores and shopping malls.
Between 2006 and 2012, the number of retail clinics in pharmacies, big box stores and stand-alone “urgent care” facilities rose from 130 to nearly 1,400, according to a study in Annals of Emergency Medicine.
To explore how the availability of these clinics affected nearby emergency rooms, the study team analyzed data on visits to 2,053 EDs in 23 states between 2007 and 2012.
In particular, the researchers looked at visits to the ED for minor complaints that could be treated at clinics, such as bronchitis, pink eye, flu, ear infections, sore throats, urinary tract infections and viral infections.
Over the five-year study period, the proportion of EDs that were within quick driving distance of retail clinics doubled from 8 to 16%. At the start of the study, about 13% of emergency room visits were for minor conditions.
During the study period, ED visits for minor issues decreased slightly among people with private insurance, but not among uninsured people or those receiving Medicaid or Medicare. Overall, having more retail clinics open nearby was not linked to a decrease in people coming to the emergency room with minor complaints, compared with areas that did not gain more clinics.