NPR logo Logjams In Doctors' Offices Drive Patients Elsewhere

Logjams In Doctors' Offices Drive Patients Elsewhere

A woman consults nurses at clinic inside a New York drugstore. Spencer Platt/Getty Images hide caption

toggle caption
Spencer Platt/Getty Images

Your primary care doctor would like to be the one who sees you for everyday care and the chronic conditions that ail you. That’s the aim of the much buzzed about medical home approach to care — making sure all your medical needs are coordinated under one roof.

But try getting in to see your doctor, especially on short notice. So, all too often people skip their primary care doctor’s office and head to the emergency room instead. That’s the conclusion of a pair of studies published in the September issue of Health Affairs.

Now, in-store retail clinics like those that have cropped up in supermarkets and drug stores are trying to pick up some of the primary care slack. Looking to expand the services they provide beyond vaccinations and quick-fix remedies for minor medical problems, some are offering themselves as go-to providers for chronic disease management as well.

In April, MinuteClinic, the chain of roughly 450 in-store clinics owned by CVS Caremark, said it would provide the regular blood tests, foot exams and other monitoring services for people already diagnosed with diabetes, asthma, high blood pressure or high cholesterol. Patients can have the results sent to their primary care doctor if they wish.

Article continues after sponsorship

Needless to say, primary care doctors aren't pleased. They see the retail clinic program as further fragmenting the primary care system rather than providing the coordinated care that is the hallmark of the medical home. “We strongly oppose retail clinics providing chronic disease management,” says Dr. Lori Heim, president of the American Academy of Family Physicians.

But unless primary care doctors find a way to air out their packed schedules, niche providers will continue to encroach on their turf. Patients, meanwhile, faced with a long wait for an appointment or even just seeking convenience, will all too often head to the emergency room for care.

Retail clinics are scrambling to bolster their services and profits, the Wall Street Journal Health Blog notes. Many of the clinics stay busy vaccinating people during flu season and then see business fall off.