Retail Clinics Perceived as Proper Backup for Primary Care Physicians


The increasing number and scope of retail clinics has caught the attention of physicians' groups.

The increasing number and scope of retail clinics has caught the attention of physicians’ groups.

In a new policy position paper, the American College of Physicians (ACP) stated that retail health clinics are best used as a backup to patients’ primary care physicians, rather than a replacement.

ACP recognizes that patients are increasingly turning to walk-in clinics located in retail stores and pharmacies for the diagnosis and treatment of episodic minor illnesses such as allergies, strep throat, and earaches—a trend that shows no sign of reversing. Some retail health clinics are also offering these services forchronic conditions such as diabetes.

“Health care delivery models are changing and our patients are embracing and exploring alternatives to the traditional office practice,” noted ACP president Wayne J. Riley, MD, MPH, MBA, MACP, in a press release.

In light of this, ACP outlined the following 6 recommendations and positions:

1. Retail clinics should serve as an episodic alternative to care from an established primary care practice for relatively healthy patients without complex medical histories. Physicians should discuss with their patients circumstances in which the use of a retail clinic might be appropriate.

2. Retail clinics should have a well-defined and limited scope of clinical services that should be clearly disclosed to patients before or during their visit.

3. Retail clinics should use standardized medical protocols based on evidence-based practice guidelines.

4. Retail clinics should have a structured referral system to primary care settings and encourage patients to establish a longitudinal relationship with a primary care physician. ACP believes it is inappropriate for retail clinics to refer patients directly to subspecialists without consulting a primary care physician.

5. Retail clinics are responsible for promptly communicating information about a clinic visit to the patient’s primary care physician, including vaccinations, tests, and post-care instructions.

6. ACP advises against chronic and complex disease management in retail clinics because it believes there are insufficient data to support this provision. It recommends controlled research into the safety, efficacy, and cost effectiveness of chronic disease management in the retail health clinic setting.

By presenting these recommendations, ACP hopes that retail clinics can be partners in promoting patient safety and quality protocols, and that communication and collaboration between primary care physicians and retail clinic staff can be strengthened and streamlined.

“The positions put forward by ACP highlight a meaningful approach that will have positive effects for both patients and physicians,” Dr. Riley concluded. “The health care system will then realize the full potential of primary care physicians working collaboratively with retail health clinics.”

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