by Anton Dodek, M.D., Tufts Health Plan
With the arrival of retail clinics in the Commonwealth in 2008, patients seeking urgent or acute care can now choose from several options: an appointment with a primary care provider, a trip to the emergency room/urgent care center or a visit to a pharmacy-based retail clinic.
There are now 20 retail clinic sites in the state. Although the advent of these retail clinics generated controversy in the medical community, many patients have found them to be not only convenient, but also a safe and affordable option.
Most patients prefer to see their primary care physician (PCP) when they are sick. After all, your doctor knows you or your child best. Your PCP knows your medical history, medications, allergies and immunization status and, in many ways, is in the best position to provide care for a sick visit.
Timely access to the doctor, however, may be a barrier for some patients as PCPs are often tightly booked. In addition, many people feel that they cannot afford to take time off from work to seek care for a simple illness such as a sore throat, urinary tract infection or ear ache. It is in this setting that retail clinics have found a niche.
Most often staffed by a nurse practitioner under the supervision of a physician, appointments are not required and the clinic is usually open nights and weekends.
Retail clinics do have some limitations. For example, in Massachusetts, retail clinics are not licensed to see children younger than two years of age. In addition, a retail clinic is not the appropriate setting to seek care for true emergencies such as chest pain. Neither is it a substitute for a pediatrician when your child needs to update his/her immunization status.
While minor illnesses are easily evaluated in this setting, retail clinics should not replace a relationship with a PCP.
Finally, no matter where you decide to seek care, communication with your doctor is important. If you are treated outside of the doctor's office, make sure that your physician receives a summary of your care. You should also ask for a copy of the treatment record to take to your doctor in case follow-up care is recommended.
Dr. Anton Dodek is a senior medical director at Tufts Health Plan, a fellow of the American Academy of Pediatrics, and Assistant Professor of Pediatrics at Tufts University School of Medicine. As a practicing pediatrician for over 20 years, Dr. Dodek has extensive clinical experience in treating primary care conditions.
This information provided by the Group Insurance Commission.