Approximately fifty million times annually, patients visit physicians for low-acuity conditions such as bronchitis and urinary tract infections.1 Many more would likely visit their primary care physician if there were shorter appointment delays at primary care offices – such delays will likely worsen with the Affordable Care Act as millions gain insurance and seek primary care.
Until recently, patients’ alternatives beyond primary care offices were limited: visit the emergency department or stay home. Now, patients can receive care via a plethora of new options - the internet, a store kiosk, a home nurse, or a grocery store clinic (see Table). These new options’ popularity indicates they fill an unmet need. For example, retail clinic visits increased four-fold between 2007 and 2009 and now account for almost 6 million annual visits.2
While these options target care that makes up a fraction of the US health care market, their growth challenges many larger health care models. They herald a future in which care is commonly provided using forms of interaction other than traditional face-to-face visits. Instead of one primary care “home” that handles all problems, these convenient care options offer specialization for basic primary care problems. Not-for-profit organizations currently provide much of health care, but many of these new care options are supported by venture capital or large for-profit companies. They might indicate herald a future where for-profit companies increasingly compete in the health care industry.
In this viewpoint, I provide an overview of factors driving their proliferation and the issues that need consideration with the increasing popularity of convenient care options.