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As primary care wait times increase, MinuteClinic offers solutions

June 20, 2023 |5 minute read time

Group of people waiting in waiting room

Julia*, a 29-year-old designer, spent nearly two years trying to schedule a primary care appointment after moving from New York to Rhode Island during the pandemic. The doctors she called were either not seeing new patients, didn’t accept her insurance or had retired.

She’s hardly alone. According to a 2022 survey, a typical U.S. patient waits an average 20.6 days for a primary care visit.

The long wait to be seen was more stressful for Julia following the discovery of a lump in her neck. It wasn’t until September 2022 that she was finally able to schedule an appointment — for May 2023 — only later to have her visit bumped to November 2023. A 14-month wait.

“The uncertainty was very stressful,” Julia says. “I had anxiety over wondering if it was something bad — and if waiting so long was making it worse.”

Patience exhausted, Julia found a primary care doctor in neighboring Connecticut this past January who referred her to a local dermatologist. Fortunately, her lump appears to be a non-cancerous lipoma, but Julia was left with about $350 in uninsured bills for the out-of-state appointment.

“Everyone always says with health care to try and be proactive, but it’s like the system is not set up to allow that,” she says.

Why are wait times so long?



typical patient wait time for a primary care visit in 20221


number of health care providers who dropped out of the workforce in 20212


number of U.S. physicians over the age of 55 and who are approaching retirement3

Filling the primary care gap

As wait times for in-person visits continue to lengthen, MinuteClinic® is stepping in to fill the gap.

“Long wait times are really one of the detractors to patients engaging in their own health care,” says Dr. Creagh Milford, Senior Vice President of Retail Health, CVS Health®. When care is delayed, patients also end up requiring more intensive services, he notes.

MinuteClinic, located in select CVS Pharmacy® locations, provides a convenient, accessible option between primary care and urgent care.

“We perform most of the types of services that a primary care doctor would perform in the community,” says Creagh, including sick care, prevention and wellness services, and management for chronic conditions like diabetes or heart disease.

With roughly 13 million patients living in primary care deserts, retail health centers like MinuteClinic can also play a critical role in delivering care to under-resourced populations. More than 55% of the U.S. population lives within 10 miles of a MinuteClinic.

Offering community-based care

Thanks to the community reach of retail health clinics, volumes have increased more than 200% over the last five years, outpacing urgent care centers and emergency departments. In 2022, MinuteClinic alone treated more than 5 million patients.

“We predict that retail health will continue to become more and more of an integral part of local community-based health care delivery,” he says, adding that MinuteClinic offerings are a key component of the company’s care delivery strategy, which also now includes primary care medical centers and home health assessments through the company’s recent acquisitions.

Another benefit: A visit to a retail health clinic can be more affordable — up to 40% less than typical urgent care centers and 85% less than emergency room care, says Angela Patterson, Chief Nurse Practitioner Officer and Vice President of Retail Health, CVS Health.

While retail health clinics are not designed to replace primary care providers, they've grown to better support the primary care-based health system, expanding their services to include preventive care like school physicals, well-woman exams and care of common chronic conditions like diabetes and high blood pressure.

“We are more than flu shots and sore throats,” Angela says. MinuteClinic was the first retail health care provider accredited by The Joint Commission, she adds, demonstrating continuous compliance with nationally recognized standards and commitment to delivering the highest level of care.

Dr. Creagh Milford, SVP Retail Health, CVS Health and Angela Patterson, chief nurse practitioner officer, VP Retail Health, CVS Health

Appointments on demand

In addition to over 1,000 locations where patients can schedule in-person care, MinuteClinic offers digital health solutions like 24/7 virtual on-demand visits to treat common injuries, illnesses and skin conditions. According to CVS Health data, most patients are seen in under 20 minutes.

Vera Rivera, a certified family nurse practitioner who sees patients virtually for MinuteClinic, hears frequently about their difficulties getting in to see a primary care provider.

“They always say, ‘I’m calling you because I can't get into my PCP,’” she says. “They want to get seen right away. That's where virtual health care visits come in so wonderfully, because patients can be either at their desk or at home and they could have a visit within minutes.”

MinuteClinic appointments can also be found through Google Search, which provides users available times at local clinics, offers Creagh. And patients can interact with CVS Health digital health solutions to manage prescriptions and view electronic health records.

MinuteClinic is also investing to meet mental health care needs through in-person and virtual counseling services offered in select states. An estimated 53 million Americans live with mental health illness, and roughly half never get the help they need. With MinuteClinic, 99% of new patients were able to see a licensed mental health professional within seven days.

Health care on the go

These expanded services allow for greater flexibility — especially as the summer season sees travelers on the move.

That was the case for a family who came into the Annapolis, Maryland, MinuteClinic after their 11-year-old son needed to stop frequently to urinate during a road trip. While the family suspected a UTI, Diana Mulvey, the nurse practitioner on duty, recognized undiagnosed diabetes, directing the family to the local emergency room and notifying their pediatrician back home.

“Detecting that upfront helped prevent a not-so-great outcome,” Diane notes.

It’s all a foundational part of the company’s plan to offer consumers healthcare that matches the personalization and convenience they get in other areas of their lives, adds Creagh.  “We want to ensure that consumers have access to high-quality care where and when they need it — whether it be in-person, virtually or at home.”

* Name changed to protect health privacy.

1 Merritt Hawkins: 22 Survey of Physician Appointment Wait Times

2 Definitive Health Care

3 Definitive Health Care

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