Health Care Solutions: The Retail Clinic Experience

When I discuss the issues of health care with people, I tend to take what I consider the most libertarian position: that many of the high costs associated with health care are due to the structure of licensing and certification and regulation that exists in our country.  In many places around the world, prescriptions for medications needed to treat common diseases are not necessary; a pharmacist can help you get the drugs you need when you need them.  In the U.S., however, we have a gatekeeper system.

There are attempts, however, to make things work a little better here.  Some CVS pharmacies in my area have set up “minute clinics” which are in-store clinics which employ technicians who are trained to diagnose many common ills and write the prescriptions people need for those illnesses.  The prices for diagnosing and treating various ailments are given up front and everything is taken care of right there in the pharmacy.

Since I politically approve of these types of setups, I decided to go to one of these clinics and get some treatment for a sore throat / infection that I’ve had on and off for the past two weeks.  I was pretty sure I would just need a course of antibiotics and I would be fine (this happens to me nearly every year).

The technician was very careful and did everything a doctor would normally do.  She seemed pretty sure (just like I was) that I just needed some antibiotics and I would be fine, but when she listened to my lungs she thought she heard something that might indicate pnuemonia or bronchitis, and said I would have to go to a doctor.  I was skeptical because I don’t really have a cough at all, but she said she wouldn’t be able to give me the antibiotics due to the fact that my diagnosis had to be treated by a doctor.

So, I left, a little disappointed that the system didn’t work the way I thought, politically, it was supposed to.  I called my primary care doctor, but they were on lunch break so I left a message.  I drove up to their offices anyway and got lunch nearby and dilly-dallied until they called and told me to come in immediately.

I got into the doctor’s office relatively quickly after they got back from lunch and then I saw the doctor: she said my lungs sounded fine, my throat looked red, prescribed antibiotics and the whole thing was done in about 5 minutes.  She wasn’t even all that thorough, I think she just sees so many people in this situation that she diagnoses quickly and is done with it.  She seemed surprised that the clinic folks sent me to her at all.

So, I got the antibiotics I knew I needed from the start by taking up three hours of my time, burning a ton of gas, and having my insurance company pay a bunch of money.  The reform I was hoping would solve a lot of these problems apparently just made things worse, because it was so incomplete and tentative.  I still love the idea of retail clinics (and not requiring prescriptions for common drugs but letting the pharmacist be the gatekeeper) but in this case they didn’t go far enough, and for that reason I’m skeptical that the whole thing isn’t a boondoggle.

Oh well, at least I got to see a helicopter land at the hospital.

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One Response

  1. I heard in a recent news article that pharmacists are being poorly paid and they have a heavy workload and that this is leading to a high error rate… I wonder what effect this will have on how many more pharmacy students we will have graduate in the near future…

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