Tuesday, June 14, 2005

McMedicine

The latest medical innovation has reached a neighborhood near me -- and it will probably reach you, too, if it hasn't already. People are busy. Doctors are overworked. Three and four hours of waiting at the emergency room or urgent care facility for a 10-minute diagnosis and prescription is frustrating to everyone. One entrepreneur -- and frustrated father -- decided to do something about it. He started a fast-growing chain called MinuteClinic. Perhaps the name says it all, but let me expand. This chain, and other facilities like it, are staffed by nurse practitioners, and they limit their practice to diagnosing and treating just a handful of common ailments and procedures, such as strep throat, earaches, bronchitis, poison ivy, bladder infections, and some vaccinations. Here in Maryland, they're located within Target stores. Certainly the "shorter-wait-time, no-appointment-necessary, medical-care-while-you-shop" convenience of MinuteClinics is appealing. So I hate to be a spoil sport. But I think it's a problem. Or rather, it's an attempt at slapping a quick-fix band-aid on a much bigger problem. First of all, there is no continuity of care provided, or even implied. The assumption is that people have a primary doctor, and that they are keeping their doctor informed of the clinic visits. Which may or may not be the case. Second, the danger of missing a more serious problem is elevated. Chronic colds, strep throat, or other infections can be a signal of immune system deficiencies and underlying disease. Quick-visit clinics are an invitation to symptom management rather than practicing preventive care or case management. (Of course, that's not exactly happening at the emergency room or urgent care centers, either.) The MinuteClinic concept is merely a symptom of much bigger problems we're facing in health care today. I don't know that we can stem this tide. The business model is too strong, and the demand for lower cost, faster health care is too high. MinuteClinic alone has plans for 200 more locations in the next four years. Like McDonald's, they will be everywhere -- but whether you go or not will be up to you. More than ever, the responsibility to practice preventive and natural health will fall to the consumer. The better option here is to safeguard your health naturally, keep track of your medical records and visits, and establish a relationship with a nutritionally savvy physician who will work with you to find natural remedies for your health challenges. Don't give in to drive-thru health care.

6 Comments:

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