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More on Health Care Utilization, Spending and Prices

By April 4, 2023Commentary

This report from Fair Health examines trends in health care use at alternative sites, like telehealth, retail clinics, urgent care centers and ERs,  in the five-year period ending in 2021.  The data source is private health plan coverage.  Early in the epidemic, virtual care using phones and computers soared, as people were terrorized or outright banned from getting in-person care. But for 2021 compared to 2020, use of telehealth dropped by over 75%.  In recent years retail clinic use has grown by over 50%, with most of the increase coming among working age adults.  These clinics are found in drug stores and some large retailers, such as WalMart.  Urgent care use also rose by 14%, but ER use declined by 15%.  These trends suggest that convenience is important to many consumers, and they find it easier and faster to go to an alternative site as opposed to a regular primary care doctor, where you can’t just walk-in.  But such visits disrupt continuity of care, and while retail clinics have tended to be cheaper than a traditional doctor visit, urgent care is more expensive.  Some of the cost differences appear to be disappearing over the last couple of years. The average cost of an office visit in one of these sites over the last ten years has risen from $139 to $207, but one suspects that in the last year inflation has pushed the cost much higher.  It is always interesting to watch trends in where Americans are actually receiving their health care.  (Fair Health Report)

Join the discussion 6 Comments

  • Frank says:

    Typo: “from $139 to 4207” should be “from $139 to $207”

  • Susan Rutten Wasson says:

    As I physician who doesn’t bill third parties because I believe in affordable and accessible health care, I am not at all surprised by this. No normal person wants to wait 5 hours in the ER and subsequently be billed $1K minimum when they can get their specific problem addressed quickly and easily for a fifth of the cost.

    Corporate primary care is becoming a joke. People call my office daily with urgent problems and they are angry that their primary clinic offered them an appointment 3-4 weeks away at the earliest.

    My staff know that many problems get better without me so we try to be available in a timely fashion. Concierge docs are better at this than we are, but I don’t believe in shutting out patients who can’t afford memberships.

  • Jolie says:

    It may be that the “retail health care” that is springing up at Walmart and such places becomes an end run around the health insurance/government quagmire we are in. Folks that aren’t in full time jobs who can’t afford Obamacare (have you actually priced that stuff and included the copays and the deductibles), will find this the better option. And if both sides, provider and providee are satified, look for included services to expand. Comments? Especially from Dr. Wasson?

    • Kevin Roche says:

      I think many people are turning to alternatives, but generally they only work for things that aren’t really serious. Be interesting to see how much more intensive the offerings get

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