When you go to a chain drugstore to purchase shampoo, you notice that they offer flu shots. There’s no waiting. It’s past due so you go for it. The clinician offers a blood-pressure screening.

Within 15 minutes of your arrival, you are satisfied with the quality of care you received. The clinic accepts insurance .

Is there a catch? Maybe. Is it possible that your primary care physician would give you a different interpretation of blood pressure numbers than the nurse practitioner at the retail clinic? Is your doctor even informed of your blood pressure data? You don’t need a primary care physician to accept the nonchalant comment that your blood pressure is “a bit too high span>

Similar questions may arise for every service that you receive at a retail clinic.

It’s not hard to see that these clinics — often found in supermarkets, pharmacies, and other big-box retailers — offer something that many Americans lack: access to basic, high-quality healthcare services at a lower price than traditional doctors’ offices.

Does retail health care improve your long-term health and well-being?

The bottom line is that if you are considering purchasing health services at a retail clinic, you should consider how long-term this method of healthcare delivery will benefit you.

“We now have many options,” Dr. Atev Mehrotra, who is a Harvard Medical School professor and a Boston hospitalist at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center. “Choice can be a good thing but it can cause new problems – for example, patients must triage themselves” to determine the best care setting to diagnose and treat minor injuries or illnesses.

He adds that there are tradeoffs between quality, cost and convenience. Navigating all of this is difficult.

Retail clinics offer basic services at a great price.

Retail clinics are a great entry point to American health care. CVS has more than 1,100 MinuteClinics. They can treat sore throats and may be able to remove stitches or surgical staples. Walgreens offers hundreds of clinics to treat pain, headaches, and infections in the urinary tract. What kind of value can patients expect from a for profit clinic without a physician?

You’ll typically find high-quality care at a reasonable price, according to researchers.

A Rand Corp. 2016 report found that retail clinics provide care of equal quality to other settings for a limited number of conditions.

Researchers at Northeastern University have reported that retail clinics charge less for similar services than other care settings in 2019.

These are best for people younger than 35 with no chronic conditions

Your age and overall health will determine if retail clinics are a good choice for you.

Dr. Mehrotra says that people who visit these clinics are more likely to be younger and healthier, as well as to be less likely to see a primary doctor. “Based on what we have seen in our research, such as sore throats, urinary tract infections and sinusitis, the care that this population receives at a retail clinic equals or exceeds what they would get in an emergency room or urgent care center,” Dr. Mehrotra said.

Dr. Mehrotra says that older patients with multiple chronic conditions, such as those with multiple chronic illnesses, need “continuity in care” — understanding their medical history and medication. This may not be the best .”

The majority of retail clinics don’t offer comprehensive primary care

The long-term effectiveness of retail health care provided only by mid-level providers like nurse practitioners is a concern for physicians. Rand reports that only around one-third reported having a primary care doctor in their retail clinics.

Dr. Mehrotra says that Mehrotra’s research shows that “going to retail pharmacies has a negative effect on continuity of care — seeing one doctor over and again,” he states. Many studies have shown that greater continuity of care leads to better outcomes .”

The consensus is reached by physician organizations. In an email, Rebecca Beeler, spokesperson for the American Academy of Family Physicians stated that family physicians have long-lasting relationships with their patients and have a holistic approach to their health. This makes it possible for our providers to provide preventive, proactive care that prioritizes long-term patient wellbeing span>

Dr. Mehrotra says that Americans are less likely to visit primary care in the United States over the past 10 or 15 years. “In our research, most patients told us that they don’t have a doctor. But it’s not difficult for patients to access primary care span>

In fact, more than 97million Americans live in areas where primary care professionals are scarce, according to KFF, a nonprofit health policy organization.

Health clinics that are retail health centers are expanding their services

Despite a shortage of healthcare professionals, major players in retail and wholesale health care are offering a wider range of services through partnerships with health systems or even by purchasing primary care chains.

CVS has partnered up with Cleveland Clinic to add the brand HealthHUB (HealthHub) to its MinuteClinics 900. This allows them to provide services like chronic disease management for patients with diabetes. Walgreens and VillageMD have partnered to open full-service primary care offices with physician staff.

Patients have difficulties integrating their medical records

No matter what type of retail clinic you choose, patients should ask how information about their medical condition and care will be shared between the clinics and other providers. According to 46% of healthcare executives and clinicians surveyed by the Massachusetts Medical Society’s NEJM Catalyst in 2022, it is difficult to track patients’ health over time, even for the few health systems that partner with retail clinics.

Kenneth Hertz is principal consultant at KTHConsulting. Hertz provides advice on managing medical practices. It’s difficult to see the whole story .”

Hertz’s wife and he have suffered fragmentation in their medical records.

Hertz says that although they have our health records, the local clinic is staffed by nurse practitioners and physician assistants. However, they do not send any information to our primary care doctor. My wife, however, is the one who will always take printouts to our doctor’s office and scan them. She acts as her own network for health communications. Integrating records is clearly a problem .”

Retail clinics are unlikely to resolve problems of continuity of care or health records any time soon. The nurse practitioner in the back of the shop can fill in for many Americans who value convenience and have limited access to doctors.