Wednesday, September 2, 2009

A case for retail clinics?

Retail clinics have posed a potential threat to primary-care offices for years, and now a new study bolsters the case for these walk-in medical clinics.
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Retail clinics, like those found in big-box chain stores, provide a “good standard of care for sore throat, ear infections, and urinary tract infections,” according to a HealthDay story that ran in U.S. News and World Report. The findings are from a study in the Sept. 1 Annals of Internal Medicine by Dr. Ateey Mehrotra.

Mehrotra compared data from clinics, doctors’ offices, urgent care centers and emergency departments. He found that standards of care in the retail clinics were consistent with accepted medical guidelines for those three ailments. Plus, they are cheaper, and about one-third of Americans live within a 10-minute drive of these minute clinics.

Of course, critics of the clinics say the patients don’t benefit from the comprehensive and expert care of their primary-care docs. And the clinics are treating the less-expensive, minor ailments, making it hard to really measure their quality.

This debate is becoming increasingly important in the context of lowering healthcare costs and expanding access.

As retail – and now worksite - clinics continue to multiply, practices are finding ways to collaborate and learn from them, rather than view them as competition. For starters, practices can look to these clinics for patient referrals, or ease their own patient load by sending patients to the clinics for minor treatments like flu shots.

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