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Survey: 58% of Americans likely to first seek non-emergency health care at pharmacies

Some 81% say they trust a pharmacist, nurse or nurse practitioner to diagnose minor illnesses and prescribe medications to treat them.

The days of patients receiving all medical care at a hospital or physician’s office are over, according to a new survey, commissioned by Wolters Kluwer Health. The results show the shift is due to growing trust in providers in non-traditional primary care settings driven by a desire for more convenient and affordable care.

The second Pharmacy Next: Consumer Care and Cost Trends survey data also show generational trends that suggest this shift in the healthcare ecosystem is permanent and will change how all stakeholders approach care delivery in the coming years.

“As we saw in last year’s survey, primary care decentralization is continuing – the traditional one doctor-one patient, single point of coordination is vanishing, and this is especially evident in younger generations,” said Peter Bonis, chief medical officer at Wolters Kluwer Health. “By preparing for this shift today, providers can work in concert across care sites to deliver the best care to patients. Likewise, newer care delivery models, like retail pharmacies and clinics, can ensure they’re ready to meet the expectations of healthcare consumers, who will increasingly be turning to them for a growing range of care needs.”

[Read more: Threats and opportunities facing retail pharmacy]

Pharmacies are becoming a front-line site for non-emergency care, particularly among younger generations. This shift is still confined mostly to retail pharmacy, versus emerging care sites such as health clinics in department stores, such as Walmart or Target, with 80% of consumers saying they would probably never go to a department store for health care. The survey also found consumers will go to different care sites depending on the services they need.

Key data findings include:

  • First stop, the pharmacy: 58% of Americans are likely to visit a local pharmacy as a first step when faced with a non-emergency medical issue. 81% say they trust a pharmacist, nurse, or nurse practitioner to diagnose minor illnesses and prescribe medications to treat them;
  • Generational divide: More than half of Gen Z and Millennials (56% and 54%) have visited a local pharmacy to receive care in the past year, compared to 40% of Gen X and 35% of Boomers;
  • Department store trust deficit: 79% of Americans trust their local pharmacy to provide care more than clinic staff at department stores; and
  • Vaccination variations: 54% of Americans would go to a traditional physician’s office only for vaccinations for children, but for flu shots and other vaccinations for adults, over three in five (62%) would go to a local pharmacy.

As consumers entrust care to alternative settings, some are less likely to focus on provider qualifications and many assume pharmacists are already familiar with their medical history. Given that the sharing of patient health records between care sites is still not standardized or coordinated, this assumption comes with risk. As a result, consumers must play a more active role in sharing their histories. Convenience also is important, and in non-emergency situations, this can trump concerns around medical qualifications, especially for younger consumers.

[Read more: How can retailers shift their mindset to serve tech-savvy customers?]

Records check? 67% believe pharmacists check medical records and/or information about a patient before filling a prescription more than half the time.

Convenience vs credentials: When asked what’s most important in a non-emergency situation, one in three Americans (33%) said convenience over the credentials and/or qualifications of the person providing their care. Less than one quarter (23%) of Boomers agreed.

Prescription prices and availability still weigh heavily on consumers. The overall cost of health care is increasing, both for medications and care interactions. The survey findings show that consumers are still struggling to keep up with prescription prices, which, in many cases, is causing them to skip their medications. They are looking to their pharmacists and clinicians to advise them on lower cost options. As an alternative, consumers are cautiously eyeing new options for receiving medications, but concerns about using these options still exist.

Too “Rx-pensive”? 37% of Americans chose not to fill a prescription because of cost.

Over-the-counter advantages: More than three-quarters (76%) say many widely used safer prescription drugs should be made available over the counter. Seventy four percent say this would help lower costs without compromising safety.

Conversations about costs: 86% would receive generic medications if it meant saving money, and 92% feel their physician and their pharmacist should inform them of these alternatives. In the past few months, over one-third (36%) have talked with their pharmacist about affording their medications or if other options are available.

Mail-order med worries: 67% prefer prescriptions via mail and/or a subscription service like Amazon Pharmacy if it means lower costs, but more than half are concerned about tampering (54%) and having unexpected interactions between medications they received via mail/subscription service and other medications they are taking (52%).

The survey included 1,017 U.S. adults, 18 and older, and is weighed by age, gender, household income and education to be representative of the total U.S. population, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. The survey was conducted online between March 15-21, 2023.



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