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Mini-clinics: Is drive-thru healthcare right for your family?

Recently there has been a surge of advertising and outreach for the new healthcare options being offered at your local pharmacy. Stores like Walgreens, CVS, and even Walmart are advertising their new “mini-clinic” concepts and parading slogans like “you’re sick, we’re quick” and “Get well, Stay well… fast.” Though you may get in and out much faster than you would at your regular physician’s office, do these mini-clinics really deliver?

Waiting Room at Clinic

How to find the right healthcare for your family

Mini-clinics are the McDonald’s of medicine

In large metropolitan areas, it seems these retail health clinics are popping up just as fast as the new Starbuck’s or McDonald’s on every street corner. If you haven’t seen or been to one, you can rest assured that one will eventually find its place a block or two away.

These clinics are geared to reach a public tired of waiting days, and sometimes weeks, to see their physicians. Their business model is to provide convenience, and good quality of care at an affordable cost. Of course, this begs the question…is that what you’re really getting?

Your health versus the bottom line

This type of market fragmentation is not unique to the American business model. As a medical physician and the founder of Scottsdale Medical Center, it is easy to see the cost effectiveness of using the least qualified personnel and the least inexpensive materials bought at bulk as a common-sense means of increasing the bottom line.

And while this is a very common business practice across most industries, the fact that we are talking about medicine should make the dangers of this philosophy apparent. While this certainly works for McDonald’s, Starbuck’s and Jiffy Lube…the bottom line is that this is not a hamburger or an oil change. This is people’s health on the line.

Hold your local mini-clinic to the highest standard

The American Academy of Family Practice (AAFP) has issued a statement regarding retail health clinics, or mini-clinics. Patients are advised to research closely and carefully to ensure that the care they are receiving really does match up with the slogan.

In general, AAFP does not endorse retail health clinics and believes that such health care delivery could interfere with the services typically provided by traditional practitioners. The AAFP has identified the following attributes that are important to the patient care offered by retail health clinics and urges all retail clinics to abide by these principles:

1. Scope of service.

Retail clinics must have a well-defined and limited scope of clinical services.

2. Evidence-based medicine.

Clinical services and treatment must be evidence-based and quality improvement-oriented.

3. Team-based approach.

The clinic should have a formal connection with physician practices in the local community, preferably with family physicians, to provide continuity of care. Other health professionals, such as nurse practitioners, should only operate in accordance with state and local regulations, as part of a “team-based” approach to health care and under responsible supervision of a practicing, licensed physician.

4. Referrals.

The clinic must have a referral system to physician practices or to other entities appropriate to the patient’s symptoms beyond the clinic’s scope of work. The clinic should encourage all patients to have a “medical home.”

5. Electronic health records (EHR).

The clinic should include an EHR system sufficient to gather and communicate the patient’s information with the family physician’s office, preferably one that is compatible with the Continuity of Care Record supported by AAFP and others.

Up next: Retail health clinic or the family physician? >>

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