CLINICS IN U.S. RETAIL STORES BRING CONTROVERSY

August 27, 2007

About 7 percent of Americans have visited one of the estimated 500 retail clinics in the United States and the number is growing, according to Reuters.

The growth comes amid a shortage of family physicians that only promises to worsen:

  • Medical groups predict a shortage of 200,000 doctors in the United States by 2020.
  • About 20 percent of Americans live in areas with a shortage of primary medical care, according to PricewaterhouseCoopers.

The clinics are filling a much needed niche in the health care industry.  According to Sandy Ryan, chief nurse practitioner officer at Take Care Health -- a retail clinic:

  • About 30 percent of patients who visit a Take Care clinic do not have a regular doctor; another 30 percent are uninsured.
  • Some 15 to 20 percent of patients seen at the clinics are referred elsewhere for additional care.

Nevertheless, some doctors groups are wary of the clinics, saying their reliance on family nurse practitioners could threaten patient safety and come between doctors and their patients.  The American Medical Association (AMA) recently passed a resolution asking state and federal authorities to investigate whether there was a conflict of interest in drug-store chains that both write and fill prescriptions.

Others disagree.  Devon Herrick, a senior fellow with the National Center for Policy Analysis, sees the AMA's objections as an attempt to stifle competition.  He said the clinics bring another option for patients, noting their longer hours, shorter wait times and posted prices.

Source: Julie Steenhuysen, "Clinics in U.S. retail stores bring controversy," Scientific American, August 23, 2007.

 

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