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Retail health clinic or the family physician?
According to online polling, those who visit mini-clinics claim that they are satisfied or somewhat satisfied with the convenience, quality of care, staff qualifications and cost. The majority of patients who go to these clinics are experiencing minor urgent care needs, such as a flu shot or treatment for sore throat, cough, congestion, etc. It is important to keep in mind that what you are getting at a mini-clinic is qualified express health care that is limited to the capabilities of the provider, for example, a nurse practitioner.
By comparison, a family physician with a total of seven years of training can provide comprehensive, continuous care where complex issues can be handled in a timely manner. It is important that the family practitioner and the patient have an ongoing dialogue and history with each other. Many patients with more complex conditions or symptoms seen at retail health clinics are referred right back to the primary care physician after being seen due to drug reactions, inappropriate diagnosis, or chronic problems. These mini-clinics do not have the space, bandwidth, equipment, or staff to handle major illnesses in most cases. Too often, what someone thinks and treats as a common cold is not.
The right place for mini-clinics
Retail health clinics do indeed have a place in a fast-paced world of text instead of call, speed dating and caffeine diets, but the problem lies in the expansion of services or jumping out of the scope of knowledge to attempt to diagnose or treat complex medical issues.
There is a major concern that a serious medical problem might be misdiagnosed at a retail health clinic whose goal is to deliver neatly packaged, drive-thru health care. This gets into a gray area between patient and provider. The expansion of services seen at some retail clinics should include physical examinations, therapeutic injections, vaccinations and weight loss treatments. Increasing the scope of practice of retail clinics beyond this will dilute the care of the patient.
A message to primary care physicians
The win-win scenario lies in primary care physicians increasing their availability and accessibility to patients seeking immediate care. The time spent scheduling that patient may be a time squeeze today, but in the interim will vastly improve the continuity of care and may reduce complex follow-ups in the near future.
The patient/consumer may choose a retail health clinic for quick services and receive excellent care, but he/she must understand that this does not replace the comprehensive care by a qualified medical physician.
All in all, if physicians realize it or not, in addition to the deeper considerations, medicine is a business. Retail health clinics picked up on a specific consumer need and responded to it successfully. As long as they adhere to good principles, they are providing an excellent service to those who need immediate access to simple care and cannot find a primary care doctor in the area with an opening.
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