According to a recent Harris Poll, walk-in medical clinics located in pharmacies, shopping malls, office parks and workplaces are getting more and more popular with health care consumers. The poll reported that of the 3,000 adults surveyed online, 27% said they have used walk-in retail or work based clinics in the past two years. That number is up 7 percent from a poll conducted in 2008.
Feedback from these patients indicates that, for the most part, patients are satisfied with the care they are receiving.
People generally visit the walk-in clinic for basic health services related to colds, sore throats, minor cuts, wounds, and general immunizations. Many clinics offer free screening tests for diabetes and cholesterol. As a result, patients have begun to use the clinics for managing their chronic conditions such as hypertension, asthma and diabetes, to check their blood pressure, blood sugar, and cholesterol.
The main reason why people choose walk-in clinics is convenience and affordability. Generally walk-in clinics do not require an appointment, are conveniently located, involve only a short wait time, are open evenings and weekends, even 24 hours, and are affordable. Many health insurance plans are now covering the cost of such visits. Even if they do not, the charges are generally in the range of an individual’s co-payment.
Most walk-in clinics are staffed by licensed nurse practitioners who have the training and authority to diagnose standard illness and prescribe medication. The care they deliver is consistent and professional.
We know that there is a severe shortage of primary care physicians in the United States. The latest prediction from the Association of American Medical Colleges is that in 2015 there will be 62,900 fewer doctors in the U.S. than are needed just to provide basic health services to the population. By 2020 it is expected that there will be a shortfall of 90,000 physicians. The implementation of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act which extends insurance coverage to over 3 million individuals, who are currently uninsured, will aggravate this physician shortage.
What happens to this large percentage of Americans who do not have easy access to health care providers? They generally rush to the ED for everything from a bad cold to cardiac arrest. When we add the shortage of available primary care physicians to the overburdened emergency departments, we can see why these walk-in clinics serve a vital need and will help to reduce the hassle as well as cost of care for all of us.
Unfortunately, patients’ use of walk-in clinics reinforces a large gap in the chain of care – proper communication between all the members of an individual patients’ health care team. These clinics do not have access to a patient’s digital health record and the patients themselves are often hesitant to reveal who their primary physician is. They also forget to ask that a report of what care was given in the clinic be sent to the PCP. As a result the patient’s regular physician has no way of knowing what was wrong and how it was treated. The fault lies with both patients and physicians.
Patients have to be more diligent about insuring that every health care professional who is treating them is apprised about all of the care that they have received. The medical establishment and PCPs in particular, have got to be more open to establishing channels of communication with everyone that their patients see to insure that there is ample opportunity for open communication and coordination of care.