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Mini-Medical Clinics on the Rise

Monday, July 17, 2006 at 3:20 PM

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Imagine going to the store for a loaf of bread and while you're there you'll also get a throat culture or have your diabetes checked. A few minutes later, the nurse practitioner hands you a prescription you can fill at the pharmacy while you shop. Sound convenient? In-store mini-medical clinics are a hot new trend in healthcare delivery that's catching on around the country - and they've just arrived in Ohio. But doctors are worried that quality of healthcare may be compromised. ideastream's Karen Schaefer reports.

Sharon Kilborne of Tallmadge works as a cashier in the deli section of the Acme Fresh Market on the east side of Akron. She has high blood pressure and this morning when she came to work, she was feeling dizzy. So she went to see the nurse practitioner. About fifteen minutes later she’s ready to go back to work - all without leaving the store.

Sharon Kilborne: I think it was very nice of them to take me as quick as they did. I was having dizziness and she thinks it’s like an inner-ear thing and she gave me a prescription and I can go back up and go to work now.

Kilborne got her medical care at Quick Clinic, an in-store mini-medical office that’s one of a chain of local franchises started by an Akron entrepreneur. It’s just one of a growing number of convenience clinics nationwide. Pat Summers is staffing the clinic today. She’s a certified nurse practitioner with 30 years experience.

Pat Summers: We’ve been here 16 months - very well-received in the community. Our only problem at this time is finding enough nurse practitioners out there to fill the demand.

Posted on the counter is a list of services the clinic can provide, from ear infections to vaccinations to school physicals, no appointment needed. The average cost is about $39 and the average wait time is about 15 minutes. Since the clinic opened, Summers says they’ve given about 4,000 flu shots and seen more than 2,000 patients.

Pat Summers: ER’s are overbooked by minor things, doctors are inaccessible, patients have time constraints, they can’t wait like they did in my practice for three hours to see you… And this addresses all of those needs. I had a patient who said, ‘you know, you’re $710 cheaper than my ER bill for the same service.’

And cost is a big issue for Summers’ patients, many of whom have no health insurance. For others, convenience is key. The clinic is open late and on weekends, so worried parents with a sick child don’t have to wait for care. Summers says she even handles life-threatening situations.

Pat Summers: Yesterday we had a lady with an acute emergency with an allergic reaction. We gave her the medication - we had benefrin and bendryl - observed her and decided she needed transport so we called the squad which came here and transported her.

And that’s what worries some doctors. While a physician is on call during clinic hours and reviews patient care, there’s no doctor on site. Tim Maglione is a spokesman for the Ohio Medical Association, which represents Ohio physicians.

Tim Maglione: A quick visit to the grocery store or the drug store shouldn’t be a substitute for an on-going relationship with your primary care physician. What might appear to be a minor illness, an earache or a sore throat, might in fact be a very serious medical condition that can be easily missed when getting your healthcare in a grocery store setting.

But Quick Clinic entrepreneur Ron Bucci isn’t worried. He says some of his competitors like Minute Clinic, which is working on a contract with Wal-Mart, are hoping to open up to 400 new mini medical clinics this year.

Ron Bucci: I think Minute Clinic’s done over four million cases and they haven’t had any suits against them yet. Everybody’s looking to put up a bunch of these things. I mean, it’s going to explode.

There are already four Quick Clinics in Summit County and another planned for Cleveland. And if patient Sharon Kilborne is anything to go by, the popularity of convenience store medical clinics will only continue to grow.

Sharon Kilborne: There’s lot of people come from outside in the morning and they’ll ask where the Quick Clinic is and they’ll go back for blood pressure and colds and things like that. So it’s nice to have it here.

Karen Schaefer, 90.3.

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