Why Millennials Prefer Retail Clinics and Urgent Care

MillennialsResearch shows that millennials use retail clinics and urgent care more than other generations. The big question is why.

Millennials – the age group between 18 and 33 –make up a third of patients at retail clinics and a quarter at urgent care centers, according to a recent consumer survey by PNC Healthcare. That’s twice the number of baby boomer patients, at 17% and 14% respectively, and seniors, at 15% and 11% respectively.

When it comes to visiting primary care physicians, however, the same survey reports that seniors lead the way at 85%, followed by baby boomers at 80%, with millennials lagging behind at 61%.

It’s not the first time numbers like these have surfaced. In fact, the RAND Corporation has published over 12 studies on retail clinics over the years. A summary of its findings states that of the 1.3 million retail clinics surveyed, “young adults (ages 18-44) account for 44% of retail clinic patients.”

Three Reasons

What’s driving millennials’ use of retail clinics and urgent care? Based on interviews that RAND has conducted with those who use these services, there are three primary reasons, according to Ateev Mehrotra, a RAND policy analyst and associate professor in the Department of Health Care Policy at Harvard Medical School.

Millennials are more likely to go to retail clinics and urgent care “because they don’t have a strongly established primary care physician, so they’re looking for a more convenient alternative,” he said. Secondly, retail clinics are better suited to people with fewer chronic illnesses – again, younger people. The third reason, which Mehrotra said was his own belief, not based on research data, has to do with expectations.

“If you told a 70-year-old person, ‘Hey, you’ve got to wait a day or two for an appointment,’ he might say, ‘OK, that’s fine.’ But I think as we’ve had this societal shift, what we expect and what we think is feasible as a wait time has changed, especially since we have grocery stores open 24 hours a day, online banking, etc. I think people are expecting that level of responsiveness from healthcare too.”

Those expectations may also stem from the immediate access to information – via Internet and smartphones -- that millennials have grown up with. Today, millennials have such a close relationship with technology that 80% of them sleep with their phone and touch their smartphones 45 times a day, according to research conducted by Robert Danna of Bersin by Deloitte on retaining millennials in the workplace.

Transparency and Mobility

Transparency in pricing at retail clinics could be another factor that appeals to millennials, said Keith Nevitt, a senior analyst with Manatt Health who co-wrote an issue brief on retail clinics for the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. Nevitt postulated that the clinics’ appeal to millennials may also have to do with the younger generation’s mobility: Since they move from place to place and bounce from job to job, many do not have a steady primary-care physician. Clinics allow them to quickly seek care for minor conditions at predictable prices.

One thing is certain, according to Mehrotra: “Retail clinics fit into a larger trend we’re seeing, which is to how to increase immediacy of health care. Today, you’ve got retail clinics, you’ve got e-visits, you’ve got direct-to-consumer telemedicine on your phone or laptop, you can go to an urgent care center.”

It’s all part of the “convenient care revolution,” he said. With their preference for retail clinics and urgent care, millennials are clearly a driving force in that revolution.