Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Putting On A Clinic

While Republicans are busy trying to fight Obamacare battles from 2010, the retail world and American health consumers are both moving on toward making affordable health care more available with the rise of retail, in-store clinics in drugstores, grocery stores, and Wal-Marts.

Patients suffering everyday complaints like chest colds or ankle sprains have long faced the lamentable choice between waiting days to see their family doctors or enduring time-sucking, unpleasant and expensive visits to hospital emergency rooms, especially at night and on weekends when physicians typically aren't open for business. It's one of the most annoying aspects of the way medical care is provided in the United States.

Big chains like CVS, Walgreens and Walmart are stepping in to try to correct this market failure. These and other retailers are opening hundreds of new walk-in clinics, staffed by medical professionals such as nurse practitioners and physician assistants. They're betting that Americans craving speed, convenience and easy-to-understand prices will be willing to break their habit of expecting a doctor to handle all of their medical issues.

"People are demanding health care to react similarly to other service industries, where people have a need and they want it relatively easy," said Nancy Gagliano, a primary care physician and chief medical officer for CVS Health's MinuteClinic. "The traditional health care system really is not adequate to support the need."

Although still vastly outnumbered by doctors' offices and hospitals, retail clinics are spreading rapidly: There currently are almost 1,900 across the U.S., up more than sevenfold since 2007, according to data compiled by Merchant Medicine, a consulting firm that tracks the sector.

Remember, the Republican argument is that Obamacare was going to make health care both unaffordable and unavailable, and that Americans were going to have to wait weeks to see a doctor for even minor health issues.  The obvious solution, staffing retail clinics with physicians' assistants and nurse practitioners, frees up emergency rooms, urgent care centers, and doctor's offices for more serious medical issues.  Since the Affordable Care Act was passed, the number of these clinics have increased by more than 50%.  I've been to one myself (a Walgreen's clinic) and got prompt service, and they took my insurance.

You're going to see more of these around in the coming years I think, and it's a good thing.  And it's important to remember that the Affordable Care Act made staffing these clinics a lot easier and here in Kentucky these clinics accept Kynect health plans as well as expanded Medicaid, and the electronic medical records provisions allows these clinics to share visit information with your doctor the next time you do visit them.

It's a good idea and I think we need more of these.

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