Retail medicine: What's up with this new phenomenon?

October 9, 2006

Retail medical clinics are sprouting all across the country?in pharmacies, grocery stores, and even department stores. Will your patients be treated in one? The answer depends a lot on you and your practice, according to Mark S. Reuben, MD, president of Reading Pediatrics, Inc., and chair of the department of pediatrics at Reading Hospital and Medical Center, Reading, Pa.

Oct. 9-Atlanta-Retail medical clinics are sprouting all across the country-in pharmacies, grocery stores, and even department stores. Will your patients be treated in one? The answer depends a lot on you and your practice, according to Mark S. Reuben, MD, president of Reading Pediatrics, Inc., and chair of the department of pediatrics at Reading Hospital and Medical Center, Reading, Pa.

Dr. Reuben told an audience at the AAP National Conference and Exhibition today that busy and overtaxed parents might consider the occasional visit to a retail clinic when their regular pediatrician is too busy to see their child or when they seek care after regular office hours.

“If patients see no value above the individual visit, why wouldn’t they to go to a retail clinic?” Reuben asked. “In some states, like Minnesota, there isn’t even a copay associated with a retail clinic visit. This encourages patients to leave their medical home for care, and organized medicine needs to stand up and make a statement about this.”

The number of retail clinics that provide pediatric services isn’t clear, but their presence is on the rise and widespread.

Reuben advises that you let parents (and a retail clinic, if one calls you) know that you can’t answer questions regarding a patient’s condition or history unless you see that patient in your office. This is a liability issue that you want to avoid, Reuben advises.

To counter any impact that retail clinics may have, Dr. Reuben said that pediatricians have to realize that they are now in a service industry and, as such, must respond to the changing needs of their clients. Here are some recommended steps offered by Dr. Reuben that you can take in your practice to better meet the expectations and needs of busy parents:

  • Keep your office clean and attractive

  • Run the practice on schedule-retail clinics offer parents beepers so that they can get other things accomplished instead of sitting and waiting to be seen

  • If you have a surly front-desk presence, change it! Stressed-out parents want to be greeted and feel respected when they come through the door or call.

  • Bill efficiently to compete with retail-based clinics

  • Increase the hours that your practice is open to accommodate busy families

  • Offer weekend hours

  • Consider instituting open-access scheduling

Remember, concluded Dr. Reuben, parents of patients are always your best advertising, and you are only as good in their eyes as what they experienced at their child’s last visit.

“Keep them happy, and you’ll have patients referred to you.”