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Patients Who Use Retail Clinics Lack Personal Doctors


A new study by the non-profit Rand Corp reports retail health clinics are attracting patients who do not have a medical home and are not receiving regular medical care. Dr. Ateev Mehrotra, professor at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine said, “For these patients, the convenience offered by retail clinics may be more important than the continuity provided by a personal physician.” Another study author, Elizabeth McGlynn, said, “What’s really important to consumers is convenience and price. They don’t care so much about the doctor-patient relationship.

There are more than 1000 retail clinics in the U.S. and they are located in strip malls, Target and pharmacies. Most are staffed by advanced-degree nurses and are open seven days a week. Appointments are not needed and the price range of a typical visit is from $40-$80. They are meant to treat patients with routine health issues such as strept throat, urinary tract infections, flu shots, and ear infections.

The study debunked the theory that these clinics would disrupt the primary care relationships of patients and their doctors. Three-fifths of the patients seen did not have a doctor so there was no relationship to disrupt.

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The American Medical Association responded to the study; “It’s unfortunate that this study finds most patients at store-based clinics do not have a primary-care physician and the AMA strongly encourages clinics to have a referral system to physicians in place for patients who need more in-depth care.”

The study also dealt with the theory that patients with serious conditions would show up at these clinics and receive inadequate evaluation by nurses. Only 2.3% of patients were sent on the an emergency room or physician office, so patients do appear to understand that these clinics are to be used for simple, stop-gap treatment for minor health problems.

The popularity of retail health clinics is indicative of the 45 million uninsured Americans who have no medical home and no regular health care. The shortage of primary care physicians may also be a factor that makes these clinics more accessible for patients.

Elizabeth McGlynn, study author from the Rand Corp, may be incorrect when she says patients don’t care about a doctor-patient relationship. They may just not have the money or the access to a primary care physician.