Americans Cut Back On Visits To The Doctor, But Increase Visits To Retail Health Clinics By 36%

Mark Perry
updated | Author's Website

From today’s WSJ article “Americans Cut Back on Visits to Doctor“:

Insured Americans are using fewer medical services, raising questions about whether patients are consuming less health care as they pick up a greater share of the costs. Doctor visits have declined each month this year, including a 7.6% drop in May 2010 from May 2009.

The drop in usage is showing up as health-care companies report financial results. Insurers, lab-testing companies, hospitals and doctor-billing concerns say that patient visits, drug prescriptions and procedures were down in the second quarter from year-ago levels.

“People just aren’t using health-care like they have,” said Wayne DeVeydt, WellPoint Inc.’s chief financial officer, in an interview Wednesday. “Utilization is lower than we expected, and it’s unusual.”

Well, maybe it’s not really so unusual based on this report “MinuteClinic visits up 36% in Q2“:

Fewer physician visits have contributed to a lift in visits to MinuteClinic as patients look for convenient and cost-effective access to healthcare services.

“Recent reports by IMS have indicated that fewer people are visiting doctors. We see this data on the fourth quarter versus the first quarter of this year, and we are expecting to see the same in the second quarter,” said Tom Ryan, chairman and CEO of CVS Caremark. “Patients are visiting fewer primary care doctors and specialists. Obviously, the sluggish economy and continued high unemployment has impacted peoples’ ability to afford physician visits.”

Clearly, this trend, coupled with MinuteClinic’s expansion of service offerings and increased awareness, has helped drive the MinuteClinic business, as people in need of convenient and affordable health care take advantage of MinuteClinic’s portfolio of roughly 500 clinics in 25 states and the District of Columbia.

MinuteClinic visits rose 36% during the second quarter. “We believe that MinuteClinic’s strong growth reflects our expansion of services and the improved awareness around our clinical offerings,” Ryan said.

Bottom Line: Consumers aren’t necessarily consuming less health care like the WSJ suggests; rather, they are shifting their demand for health care away from expensive, conventional physician offices with limited hours to affordable and convenient retail clinics.  Especially when consumers are spending their own out-of-pocket money for health care and they have a choice, they prefer market-driven, consumer-driven options like affordable, convenient retail clinics over conventional physician offices.

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