While we all expect quality health care to be available when it’s needed, our future could be flat lining. According to the Association of American Medical Colleges, meager graduation and physician training rates in our country could cause a shortage of up to 150,000 doctors within the next 15 years. As many of us are aware, Arizona already is battling an on-going primary care physician shortage, which will cause wait times and delays in care to grow in the coming years. Because of this, no-appointment convenience care clinics have become an important and growing part of our healthcare landscape.
The Rand Corp. recently performed a survey which showed that convenience care clinics staffed by nurse practitioners or physicians assistants can treat acute, everyday illnesses in a way that is quick, convenient and significantly more affordable for the patient, without sacrificing quality. Convenience care clinics have shorter wait times than emergency rooms, help people avoid lengthy physician appointment scheduling delays, and in some cases, require a payment that is less than an office visit co-pay or co-insurance. In short, convenience care clinics help people with minor illnesses return to good health and get back to their daily routine, and are efficient in doing so.
There are now 1,200 quick-care clinics operating in 32 states, according to the Convenient Care Association. In Arizona, Cigna Medical Group has opened nine CMG CareToday clinics since 2007, with at least two more planned this year and a newly opened facility off of the Metro Light Rail in down town Phoenix. Other health care organizations – including some Arizona hospitals – are recognizing that this facility model can help direct people to the right health resource based on the severity or simplicity of their symptoms.
According to the National Center for Health Statistics, seven of the 10 most common reasons people go to the doctor are for minor needs that can be successfully treated by a physician’s assistant or nurse practitioner. Yet to function optimally, the providers in convenience care clinics should be integrated into a large medical group or health system in two ways. First, they should be programmatically linked with supporting primary care physicians in order to make the treatment of patients more effective. Secondly, they should share electronic health records with these same primary care physicians to have direct access to the detailed patient records prior to providing the acute care and to communicate back to the physician who is providing ongoing care. If a system like this were in place at more neighborhood walk-in clinics, it would become easier for patients to go to a convenience care clinic for quick treatment, and still be sure that their primary care physician will be updated about any important changes in their health.
Not only is this critical in our personal lives, but access to healthcare (or delays to it) also has deep implications in the workplace. During this time where businesses are facing a great deal of economic stress, many offices are operating as leanly as possible and the absence of just one sick co-worker disturbs an entire department. Because of this fact, employees are trying to be fully productive.
According to a 2008 survey conducted by Yankelovich for CIGNA, about 61 percent of U.S. workers said they reported for duty while they were sick or coping with family and personal matters. On average, they did this more than twice as often as they missed work. Employees who are ill at work are not fully “at work.” Their productivity, morale and concentration drops. Employees realize that presenteeism affects the workplace. In the same survey, 62 percent said they were less productive on those days they came to work too distracted to perform at their fullest potential. Yet, convenience care clinics – especially when located near dense, urban employment hubs – make it possible for employees to receive medical care near the office and return to work that same hour, or return home with medicine in hand to assist a speedy recovery.
This convenience care clinic model is proving to be effective and under demand in Arizona because more than ever before, greater health care access is crucial. Arizona continues to experience a shortage of primary care doctors, with a physician-to-population ratio that is below the national average, according to the American Medical Association.
It is our hope that more healthcare organizations, employers and individuals will help advance a new, stratified level of service: convenience care clinics for minor ailments, physician offices for more complex or specialty needs, urgent care centers for serious wounds or injuries, and quality emergency rooms for life-threatening needs.
A cooperative effort toward better public education and understanding as to which type of facility to seek for the appropriate level of care would be a valuable step towards preventing over-crowding at emergency rooms and physician offices. Such an effort would assure that each type of facility provides the right care at the right time when patients come through the door. This adaptability, along with innovation, can give the customer quality care every time.