Retail clinics are coming to be seen as an effective antidote to the more formal healthcare industry in the US. It is relatively cheaper and more easily accessible. According to a new survey, at least one in ten U.S.
children have used a retail health clinic, and that figure will likely rise, a new poll shows.
The poll included a nationally representative sample of 2,076 U.S. adults. Knowledge Networks conducted the poll in March for the University of Michigan C.S. Mott Children's Hospital.
The poll shows that 10% of children and 11% of adults have used retail health clinics, and that 15% of children and 19% of adults are very likely or likely to do so in the future.
Among parents who had already taken a child to a retail clinic, 70% said they are likely or very likely to take their child to a retail clinic again.
But the the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) is not amused. opposes retail-based clinics as an appropriate source of medical care for infants, children, and adolescents.
In a statement, the AAP says it "strongly discourages" the use of retail-based clinics for babies, kids, and teens because the clinics aren't a "medical home" providing consistent long-term care for patients.
But then in a country where healthcare is said to be collapsing, becoming unaffordable for large sections of the people, any cheaper option is welcome.
Of course they treat common ailments only — such as ear infections, allergies, or pink eye — and offer an alternative to packed doctors' offices and pricey emergency rooms.
Nurse practitioners (NPs)— nurses with advanced degrees who can write prescriptions — staff most clinics. They reduce costs because they charge, on average, less than half of what family doctors do.
They not only diagnose ailments but also input computer data, process payments, dispense tip sheets on how to avoid future illness and send patients thank-you notes.
While there is always room for error in diagnosing illness, clinic operators say there is little that can go wrong.
Nurse practitioners have at least six years of schooling and use proprietary software that helps them examine and question patients.
If clinics cannot treat someone because an ailment is too serious, such as bronchitis that's advanced to pneumonia, most clinics refer clients free of charge to a local doctor or emergency room. Clinic operators say they refer out about 10 per cent of clients.
The first retail health clinic opened in 2000, and there are 300 in the U.S. today with another 2,000 expected by the end of 2008.
Some doctors warn that patients won't get top-notch care at the clinics. Others say they fill a need, especially on nights and weekends, when doctors' offices are closed.
"This really can be part of improving health care," says Minute Clinic CEO Michael Howe.
The problem we're solving is an access problem," says Peter Miller of Take Care Health Systems. It opened its first clinic in fall, has 23 in one region and plans to open 1,400 by 2009.