It’s 2015 and we live in an iPhone and instant messaging world. We expect to have information, products and services at our fingertips. Waiting days to receive a letter used to be normal; now it’s a text, a tweet and a nanosecond away. When it comes to health care and wanting to feel better, the “I want it now” attitude applies as well.
Whether you call them urgent care centers, doc-in-a-box clinics or walk-in clinics, these businesses are popping up in epidemic numbers (pun intended). Between 2009 and 2013, the number of such health centers doubled in the US to more than 400 according to data from the American Hospital Association.
In addition to the walk-in concept, health care is showing up in all sorts of unlikely places, ranging from your local CVS to the produce section at ShopRite. So, let’s take a look and see how health care delivery options have changed from the traditional make-an-appointment-with-your-doctor-and-wait, to no-appointment-needed, 24/7-help-is-around-the-corner (literally in most cases) approach.
Feel Better Later Than Sooner? I Don’t Think So…!
It’s Sunday afternoon and you decide to put up fencing in your backyard. Instead of hammering the nail, you accidentally smash your thumb—it’s black and blue, swollen and hurts like hell. Rather than suffer all night waiting until Monday morning to call your family doctor to see if he can “squeeze you in,” there are walk-in clinics available everywhere—in malls, neighborhood shopping sites and even pharmacies.
What drives this trend for instant and convenient medical care? The first words that come to mind are getting in and out quickly. For example, MinuteClinic (a division of CVS Health) is the largest provider of retail clinics with more than 800 locations in 28 states serving more than 20 million patients. In the Cherry Hill, NJ area, four CVS pharmacies offer medical care when you need it—especially important on weekends and evenings. And, being located within a pharmacy makes for one stop shopping—see the doctor and then get the prescription filled under the same roof.
As the name implies, many MinuteClinics are located minutes away and strive to get you seen by a physician or medical practitioner as soon as possible—without an appointment. You simply walk in, sign up at a computer kiosk and wait to be called. If there is a 30-minute or more wait, you can leave the clinic and wait for a text message alerting you when to return for your appointment. Why sit in a waiting room full of sick people when you can wait at Starbucks?!
In addition to convenience, MinuteClinic offers an impressive menu of illnesses that they treat including strep throat; bladder infections; pink eye; minor wounds; sprains; and ear, nose and throat infections—conditions that would be no fun to have while persevering through a weekend or waiting for a doctor’s appointment.
ER vs Walk-In Clinics – Getting to be a No Brainer of a Choice
Your six-year-old daughter fell off her bike and might have broken her wrist. It’s 7:00 p.m. on a Tuesday evening. Where should you take her? Besides a convenient and fast treatment, cost may go through your mind as well. Yes, there’s the ER at the local hospital, but you don’t want to spend four or more hours in a waiting room full of “emergency” cases. Options?
In many cases, a trip to a walk-in clinic is CHEAPER than traditional alternatives. According to statistics from the Medica Choice, a health care insurer, the cost of visiting an urgent care center for most medical conditions was cheaper than the emergency room. For example, the average ER claim for strep throat was $531 vs. $111 for a walk-in clinic, saving Medica Choice patients an average of $420. Because of this trend, many insurance plans offer lower copays for members who visit urgent care centers rather than emergency rooms—a penny saved is a penny earned for you and your insurance company. For patients without insurance options, clinics accept cash and credit cards, and in many cases are able to set up payment plans.
Located in nine locations throughout South Jersey, AtlantiCare offers convenient hours, board-certified providers, X-ray and lab services and the ability to treat a wide variety of non-life-threatening illnesses and injuries ranging from sore throats to sports injuries. Similar to the MinuteClinic model, AtlantiCare Urgent centers make an attractive alternative to traditional doctor office visits because of their availability (open seven days a week) and their accessibility. No appointment is ever necessary and they have many locations in South Jersey including Marmora, Egg Harbor Township, Hammonton and Sicklerville.
Pros & Cons, if Any….
Regardless of the urgent care option that you select, patients seem to prefer being treated in a doc-in-the box environment as opposed to ER or even the “family doctor” route. Convenience is the driving factor there, but is that enough of a reason to kiss your doctor goodbye forever? The answer is up to you, of course.
Many doctors see why patients like the walk-in clinic model for their medical care. However, some doctors feel that the lack of continuity of care could be an issue for some patients and certain illnesses. Dr. Jordan Teglasi, an internist working in a walk-in clinic, explains the two sides of the argument, “I think the walk-in clinic concept is a great idea—perfect for keeping people out of ERs and hospitals. However, what I see lacking is that there is an issue with continuity of care.”
Ironically, Dr. Teglasi’s sentiment is not lost on doc-in-a-box centers. In an effort to mimic a more family doctor-like experience, some clinics are offering follow-up calls 24-48 hours after a visit just to see how you are feeling. In addition, MinuteClinic offers preventative care plans ranging from TB testing, physicals and healthy lifestyle programs such as smoking cessation and weight loss programs. To further help you stay healthy instead of treating you for illnesses, MinuteClinic provides education and medical guidance for those with diabetes, high cholesterol or high blood pressure.
Attention Shoppers – Nutritionist in Isle 6!
In addition to finding medical care in a pharmacy setting, grocery stores are offering “supermarket dietitians” to educate customers about food as they shop for said food. According to the Retail Dietitians Business Alliance (RDBA), there are currently more than 400 retail registered dietitians throughout the US working in supermarkets helping customers with food and nutrition issues. So, if you ever wanted to know what veggies were high in calcium but were afraid to ask, your worries are over! In-store dieticians provide answers as well as cooking demonstrations and classes. They can also develop recipes for you and your needs.
Ciara Beck, Registered Dietician, can be found most days on the floor at the ShopRite in Somers Point, NJ readily answering customer questions about diets, products or nutrition labels. In addition, she offers healthy recipes and product demonstrations. If needed, you can also schedule one-on-one consultations in which Beck gives personalized advice ranging from nutritional counseling to weight management, and the service is free for shoppers.
Nutritional information on packaging can be like confusing gibberish to consumers. Beck explained how she helps shoppers feel a little less overwhelmed by packing information overload: “My goal is to help customers break down the information and simplify the messages to help them accomplish their health and wellness goals and achieve a balanced diet.”
Supermarket nutritionists like Beck also help customers understand what foods they need to buy based on health issues they or their family might have. For example, she educates shoppers about sugar content, gluten-free products and managing lactose intolerances.
Rather than having to make an appointment with a nutritionist and pay the fee (and/or a copay), grocery stores offer the advice right on the spot where you probably have your most food-related questions. According to Beck, “Being based in ShopRite really has its advantages. I’m available to walk the aisles with customers to help them make the healthiest food choices and read product labels with them.”
A Virtual Apple a Day…
An apple a day used to keep the doctor away. However, in 2015 if you need a doctor, it might only be an Apple iPhone app away. The times they are a changin’—and so is how, when, where and by whom we expect to get our health care delivered.
What’s in store for the future? Most likely medical care will keep pace with the rest of our lifestyles—fast, convenient and efficient. So, you will probably still say “ahhhh” and take an antibiotic. You just may do it over a video conference via your iPad.