Primary care practices lose patients to alternative sites of care

The news: Consumer preferences for where to get in-person care have shifted in recent years as more convenient options crop up, per Insider Intelligence’s “Healthcare Patients by Walk-in Facility” forecast.

Where patients are getting in-person care: Our forecast, freshly updated this week, shows that more patients are choosing retail health clinics and urgent care centers over traditional primary care practices.

  • 154.8 million US adults, or 59.3% of the population, got in-person care at a primary care practice at least once in 2021. But that number slightly decreased in 2022 (58.9%) and is projected to continue dropping in 2023 (57.9%) and 2024 (56.9%), per our estimates.
  • Conversely, while just 23.8% (61.5 million) of US adults received in-person care at a retail health clinic in 2020, that number spiked to 30.3% this year (79.6 million adults), and we project it to rise to 32.8% in 2024 (87.6 million adults).
  • More adult patients also turned to urgent care clinics in 2022 (95.9 million, 36.5% of the population) than they did in 2020 (89.3 million, 34.5%). We project that to increase to 98.2 million adult patients, or 36.7% of the population, in 2024.

Spotlighting retail health: Our forecast provides estimates on which groups of patients are getting care at retail health clinics and how the market leaders in this space stack up against each other.

  • Most retail clinic patients in 2022 (60.8%) are either Millennials (29.1 million) or Gen Xers (19.3 million). Just 12.4 million, or 15.5% of all retail clinic patients in 2022 are Boomers.
  • CVS (53.1%) and Walgreens (24.4%) account for more than three-quarters (77.5%) of all retail clinic patients in 2022. We expect each of these clinics to attract more consumers in the next two years: in 2024, they’ll combine to draw 78.7% of all retail health patients, per our estimates.

Convenience over loyalty: Retail clinics and urgent care centers typically offer same-day appointments and many have online tools that enable patients to check prices, verify insurance eligibility, and schedule visits. These care delivery sites earned consumers’ trust by being go-to locations for COVID-19 testing and vaccinations.

  • 92% of consumers said convenience is the most important factor when choosing their primary care provider, per CVS’ 2022 Health Care Insights study.
  • New patients deal with an average wait time of 20.6 days to get an appointment with a family medicine doctor, a September 2022 survey from Merritt Hawkins found. That average duration extends to 26 days when including other specialties.
  • 36% of consumers have no healthcare brand preference, and 45% said their loyalty has already shifted since the pandemic began, per NRC Health’s 2021 Healthcare Consumer Trend Report.

What this means for providers: Non-traditional entrants are disrupting the primary care status quo by creating accessible front doors to the healthcare system. Several of these players have a retail background with tech-driven business models that let patients act like consumers.

Incumbent primary care providers will need to get a better grasp of which factors matter most to patients when deciding where to get care and adjust their business accordingly. Otherwise, consumers will simply pick another option.

This article originally appeared in Insider Intelligence's Digital Health Briefing—a daily recap of top stories reshaping the healthcare industry. Subscribe to have more hard-hitting takeaways delivered to your inbox daily.

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