MinuteClinic -- a darling of health care reform when it introduced retail clinics a decade ago -- is running strong despite retailers and family doctors copying its storefront brand of care.

A new market report found that MinuteClinic still is the nation's top provider of retail clinics with 549 in operation, up from 451 in January 2011. (The clinics use lower-cost providers such as nurse practitioners and offer set prices, such as $23 for a rapid strep test.)

MinuteClinic also remains a top-quality provider in Minnesota -- at least for its bread-and-butter service of diagnosing respiratory infections.

MinuteClinics correctly denied antibiotics to 95 percent of patients with colds and 73 percent of patients with bronchitis in 2010, according to Minnesota Community Measurement. They correctly tested and prescribed antibiotics to 99 percent of strep patients. All three figures bested state averages.

The data suggest that MinuteClinics are doing poorly at screenings for cancer and STDs. Only 51 percent of women who use MinuteClinics for primary care and were due for breast cancer screenings received them in 2010.

That is a bit misleading, because MinuteClinics don't offer cancer or STD screenings.

Minnesota Community Measurement nonetheless holds MinuteClinics accountable and believes they should advise their primary care patients to seek needed screenings elsewhere.

MinuteClinic originated in Minneapolis and has 27 local clinics. It moved its headquarters to Rhode Island after it aligned with CVS Caremark.

Some thought MinuteClinic wouldn't stay in business long because doctors' clinics would copy its approach and win back patients.

Company President Andrew Sussman said more clinics, not fewer, will be needed as aging and obesity create more health care needs: "We simply do not and will not have enough primary care physicians to meet all of these urgent medical needs."

jolson@startribune.com • 612-673-7744