It is a pretty simple matter to predict that retail clinics are here to stay, given their rapid adoption and growth in recent years (“Mass. panel sets rules for limited-care clinics,” Daily Dose, Jan. 9). They often deliver significant benefits to their sponsors, hosts and patients, while enabling independent-minded nurse practitioners and physician assistants to enjoy working without a boss.
Considering how long physicians have known that patients often wished they could get care on evenings and weekends and few did anything to respond, the success of retail clinics is not only unsurprising, but well-deserved. They add significant convenience of time and place, free parking and the opportunity to do something besides reading old magazines while enduring endless waits for the doctor. The simplified working arrangements at retail clinics enable those who practice there to devote far more of their days to actually interacting with patients, which both practitioner and patient usually prefer.
The greatest promise these retail clinics may represent, however, may be in their potential for managing the health of patients, rather than just routine illness and injury, as more than one clinic chain does now. This means that part of their services will be aligned with the interests and growing investments of employers as well as of commercial and government health insurance plans.
Retail clinics will have to demonstrate how much they deserve to continue, particularly as they move increasingly into the kind of health management that can make them profit centers not just for their hosts but for employers and insurers as well as their patients. Most physicians are stuck being “cost centers” for these payers, and when they have undertaken even to proactively manage chronic disease, have often cost Medicare, for example, more than they saved.
Port Ludlow, Wash.