Physician retail clinic protests miss the point



Physician retail clinic protests miss the point
Wow, the AMA is steamed about retail clinics. In my nearly 20 years of healthcare reporting, I can't think of an issue which has gotten members more worked up and ready to fight.

And the protests are all over the map. Apparently, retail clinics endanger patients. No, they endanger pediatric patients. They're not regulated enough. They have a conflict of interest in writing scripts their host retailer may fill. And so on. Why don't they just come out and say "It should be illegal to offer services we can't, at a price we can't?"

That being said, however, primary care practices are in an extremely unfair position. How many businesses have to contend with revenue streams which are as difficult to navigate, changeable and at risk for shrinkage as physicians? Given the challenges in coping with health plans--and limits on what plans will pay for--I'd argue that few practices are in a position to offer what retail clinics offer in terms of hours, convenience and flexibility. And it's just not their fault.

Here's an alternative. What if physician groups like the AMA stopped fighting the inevitable growth of the retail clinic sector and fought harder to foster financial situations that would allow PCPs to offer retail-clinic like options? 

I'm thinking they could target government grants and loans at first, then probably, later, changes in reimbursement that explicitly acknowledge it's cheaper over the long term to pay for giving patients more access. (This way, a wheeze on Sunday won't turn into a hospitalized asthma patient on Monday.)

What do you think, folks?  Is there any chance the primary care market could win support for building out its alternative to retail clinics? Or are the retail clinic operators serving a niche they'll never really be able to touch?- Anne

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