Some Parents Opting for Pharmacies, Not Doctors

(Image credit: Pharmacist via Shutterstock)

About one in four parents have taken their kids to a clinic at a chain pharmacy or other retail store for health care, a new study suggests.

The study surveyed more than 1,400 parents in the St. Louis area (in Missouri and Illinois) who had a regular pediatrician for their child.

Twenty-three percent of parents said they had taken their child to a "retail clinic" — the name for clinics in pharmacies, supermarkets or retail stores, which offer walk-in appointments — at least once in their lives.

Nearly three-quarters of these parents said they had considered going to their pediatrician, but decided instead to go to a retail clinic because the clinic offered more convenient hours, they couldn't get an appointment with their pediatrician, they did not want to bother their pediatrician after-hours or they didn't think their child's problem was serious enough to require a doctor's visit.

The most common reasons for visiting a retail clinic were sore throats, ear infections and colds or the flu, and the average age of the child was 8.

Although retail clinics have increased in number in recent years — offered at some Walgreens, CVS and Wal-Mart stores, to name a few — some organizations have expressed concern about the quality of care provided at such outlets. For instance, the American Academy of Pediatrics has taken a stance against retail clinics, saying that they fragment patient care, and may provide tests without properly following up with patients.

Many parents in the survey were satisfied with the care they received at the retail clinics.

However, the study findings suggest that health care providers at retail clinics prescribeunnecessary antibiotics. For instance, two-thirds of patients who had colds or the flu (which are viral infections) were given antibiotics, which is not recommended by national guidelines.

Because respiratory tract infections accounted for a large number of visits to retail clinics in the study, "the potential harm from widespread overuse of antibiotics for these common illnesses could be considerable," the researchers wrote in the July 22 issue of the journal JAMA Pediatrics.

Less than half of parents who took their child to a retail clinic told their pediatrician about the visit, and hardly any parents said that their pediatrician asked about visits to retail clinics.

Effective communication about health care is essential to ensure coordination of care, and avoid duplicating treatments, the researchers said.

Health care providers at retail clinics should advise parents to report such visits to their pediatricians, and pediatricians should routinely ask about such visits, the researchers said.

Because the study was conducted in one particular city, the findings may not apply to other communities, the researchers said. It's also possible that, in some cases, parents confused retail clinics with urgent care centers.

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Rachael Rettner

Rachael is a Live Science contributor, and was a former channel editor and senior writer for Live Science between 2010 and 2022. She has a master's degree in journalism from New York University's Science, Health and Environmental Reporting Program. She also holds a B.S. in molecular biology and an M.S. in biology from the University of California, San Diego. Her work has appeared in Scienceline, The Washington Post and Scientific American.