Count me as one who is not happy with health care in America. Doctors are overworked and fail to provide sufficient time and attention to their patients. All too often both doctor and patient go for the quick fix of a symptom rather than look for the source of a health problem.
Now there are retail health clinics showing up in mall stores and supermarkets all over the country. The phenomenon is growing rapidly, even to the point where patients skip their HMO, or their family doctor, and head for the quick fix at the shopping center.
Think of it as a version of 7-11 with health care instead of a Slurpee or Big Gulp.
MinuteClinic has the slogan of “You’re Sick, We’re Quick“. QuickHealth says “We Make Quality Care Affordable and Convenient.” Walmart has a few hundred small clinics in their retail stores scattered throughout the country and the number is expected to increase.
Once enough retail health clinics show up around the country the next logical step is national advertising. It won’t be long before television advertising pushes health care the way Jenny Craig pushes a diet or Martha Stewart pushes whatever she pushes these days.
I see a problem with a health clinic inside a Walmart or Target or in the local shopping mall. Sick people are usually contagious and having them wander around an area with many not-so-sick people can’t be good for the latter group. The sick are spreading their germs and the healthy are taking the germs home.
Still, there’s an attraction to instant health care. To get a quick appointment with a family physician at Kaiser Permanente requires an act of God, governmental intervention, or the willingness to sit in the emergency room with a few dozen other sick people.
A trip to the mall starts to look pretty good in comparison. Besides, a little competition is a good thing and the medical community hasn’t had much competition. Ever.
Access is one thing, cost is another. Many of the retail health clinics are cash-only and don’t accept insurance. HMO’s have been on co-pay for many years. The average retail clinic has a maximum charge of $50 which usually gets stuck on a credit card with other purchases. Even $50 is not that far from the average HMO co-pay of $20 per visit.
What’s on the menu at a retail health clinic? No surgery, of course. Most patients are there with sore throats, allergies, and routine vaccinations. Acute medical problems are seldom addressed.
Still, there’s something disconcerting about visiting a doctor at Walmart. What quality of medical services would you expect from the nation’s leading discount retail store?