THERE are bound to be many old-fashioned physicians who dislike the idea that some of their colleagues are practicing medicine out of pharmacy, discount, and grocery stores. It may, however, be one of those ideas whose time has arrived.
Doctors who see patients for minor illnesses in a retail setting rather than a traditional medical office are responding to a demand for care that's effective, quick, and cheap.
Drs. Linde Buck and Henry Taylor of Oregon know this well. The burdensome task of maintaining an office forced them to close their Bay Pointe Family Practice. Now, they get to spend more time on actual medicine at their To The Point Medical Clinic, in a Pharm drugstore on Wheeling Street.
The fact that these young doctors were willing to leave a traditional professional setting to chase the cusp of a trend illuminates a key weakness in the American health-care system. For minor illnesses, an increasing number of busy people desperately need and want help without having to wade through a menu of options from a doctor's answering machine or negotiate with a receptionist about when they can see a doctor. And they don't like long waits.
Chain stores like Pharm, Walgreens, CVS, Wal-Mart, Target, Kroger, Meijer, and Rite Aid have shrewdly picked up on the trend.
While traditionalists may cringe, we don't believe that such clinics will turn health care into McMedicine, assuming they are staffed by competent, caring physicians. It is, instead, a case of an idea meeting a demand. A year ago, there were 200 such clinics nationwide. Within two years, 1,400 are expected to be open.
Americans may long for the time when a family doctor knew them and their medical problems intimately, but for many people those days are gone. Few doctors can afford to be so familiar with their patients simply because they have so many of them.
A key advantage of these unconventional clinics is that they should cut down on the number of visits to hospital emergency rooms, the most expensive kind of medical care in this country.
A walk-in clinic is a better, more cost-effective setting for treatment of minor but urgent ailments such as earaches or cuts, and should help to keep hospital ERs free for the true crises they are meant to handle.