As low-cost, convenient retail health clinics grow increasingly popular nationwide, a political backlash against them is gaining momentum.
In early May, the Illinois State Medical Society (ISMS) announced it will lobby for state and federal laws to monitor retail clinics closely.
The ISMS asked the Illinois General Assembly to enact House Bill 1885, the “Retail Health Care Facility Permit Act,” which would charge the Illinois Department of Public Health with regulating services provided in retail clinics.
Currently, ISMS President Dr. Rodney C. Osborn said, “A patient might visit a retail health clinic for what appears to be a common ailment but, when viewed in the context of the patient’s past medical history, [it] could indicate something much more serious.
“A patient’s primary care physician, who has more extensive knowledge of the patient’s medical history, would be better equipped to understand this,” Osborn concluded.
State Rep. Mike McAuliffe (R-Chicago) introduced H.B. 1885 on February 23. In late May, it was pending in the House Rules Committee.
Free-market experts disagree that additional regulation is needed.
Retail health clinics improve public health, said John McClaughry, president of the Ethan Allen Institute in Vermont, because offering convenient, low-priced medical services makes patients more likely to seek treatment.
John R. Graham, director of health care studies at the Pacific Research Institute in San Francisco, agreed.
“These clinics serve many patients who would otherwise receive no medical care,” Graham said. “Therefore, the risk of having them is less than the risk of not having them.
“They are self-regulated, in that their trade association has recently published a code of practice, and they employ health professionals, primarily nurse practitioners, who are also self-regulated by a governing body recognized by the state, like any other profession,” Graham added.
Greg Blankenship, executive director of the Illinois Policy Institute, a nonpartisan think tank in Springfield, said retail clinics are an alternative to more expensive and less convenient doctor visits for common ailments such as sore throats, and also for monitoring chronic conditions.
“A robust system would also free up physicians to focus on the more important cases, thus improving the [overall] quality of health care,” Blankenship said.
“If a retail clinic is staffed by a licensed medical professional under physician supervision, little or no other regulation ought to be necessary,” McClaughry said. “The host store or mall has an interest in seeing that its lessees are safe, competent, and reliable.”
Blankenship said retail clinics lower the cost of health care–and medical societies such as the ISMS should be seeking ways to do the same, not drive up the costs by over-regulation.
“The increasing number of physicians who are transparent about the cost of medical care, and demand payment from patients up front rather than waiting for an insurance plan to adjudicate a claim, is positive because it will lead to a better use of health services and, therefore, patient welfare,” Graham said.
Dr. Sanjit Bagchi ([email protected]) writes from India.
For more information …
Research & Commentary on Retail Health Clinics, The Heartland Institute, March 2007, http://www.heartland.org/Article.cfm?artId=20860.