NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


September 4, 2007

To fill a niche in primary care, entrepreneurs are creating innovative practices.  Increasingly, patients are interacting with physicians in ways more convenient and less expensive than a tradition office visit, according to the participants at the Teleconference for the Health Economics Roundtable. 

SmartCare Family Medical Centers is a new type of retail, walk-in clinic typically located in big box retail stores.  They have a limited scope of practice and are staffed by nurse practitioners.  A medical professional is available 12 hours a day ever day except Sunday, which has slightly reduced office hours:

  • SmartCare's advantage is long hours and convenient locations. 
  • No appointment is necessary and there is little, if any, waiting.
  • A range of prices are clearly posted -- averaging $40 to $60 per visit. 

These clinics are not intended to replace one's primary care physicians; rather, they provide convenient care for minor ailments, such as sore throats, earaches and school physicals.

TelaDoc is a physician call service.  It also has a limited scope of practice but is staffed by board certified physicians.  Medical history and office encounters are recorded and retained electronically.  And all drugs are prescribed that way. About 95 percent of members would recommend the service to friends and family:

  • Services are convenient -- calls can be placed from anywhere with a phone.
  • Once a patient calls the service center, a board certified physician reviews their medical history and returns the call in about 40 minutes. 
  • The cost is $35 per consult -- which lasts an average of about 12 minutes.

This service is also not intended to replace members' primary care physicians; rather, it is a safety net members can rely upon in situations when they cannot get in to see their regular doctors. 

Source: Dan Patterson, Michael Gorton and Devon Herrick (moderator), "Innovations in Convenient Care: Retail Clinics and Telemedicine," Teleconference for the Health Economics Roundtable, National Association for Business Economics, August 30, 2007.

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