Physician Groups Urge AMA To Call for Ban on Retail Health Clinics

The American Medical Association should seek a ban on retail clinics, several physician groups said on Sunday at the annual AMA meeting in Chicago, the Chicago Tribune reports. Retail clinics — low-cost, walk-in facilities often located in supermarkets, pharmacies and large retail stores — in large part are staffed by nurse practitioners and physician assistants under the supervision of physicians who in most cases are not on site. Currently, AMA policy on retail clinics in large part addresses standards of care, such as the use of electronic health records and adherence to guidelines for proper sanitation and hygiene. At the meeting, some physician groups said that the lack of physicians at retail clinics places the health of patients at risk, and others said that nurse practitioners lack the ability to treat patients younger than age three properly.

An AMA committee will consider the concerns raised by the physicians groups and issue a policy recommendation for consideration by the full 555-member House of Delegates within the next two days. According to the Tribune, AMA likely will “harden its existing policy toward retail clinics by the end of the meeting,” and “AMA votes on such issues mean it will use its considerable lobbying clout to push for federal laws to increase regulation and slow growth of clinics.” Kamran Hashemi, a family physician from Illinois, said, “There is no more urgent issue than this for the AMA,” adding, “This issue speaks to what all of us do every day in practice.”

Michael Polzin — a spokesperson for Walgreen, which operates retail clinics — in a statement said, “We would be disappointed if the AMA adopted a policy that is counter to what patients are demanding, which is more accessible and affordable health care that reduces overall costs.” He added, “The bottom line is, retail clinics are improving health care access and health outcomes while keeping the patient’s doctor informed as the patient desires” (Japsen, Chicago Tribune, 6/24).

The concerns of the physician groups about retail clinics raise the question of “whether the … medical establishment is more upset by clinics’ ‘drive-in kind of approach’ or its potential loss of business for doctors,” a Chicago Sun-Times editorial states. According to the editorial, “any parent who has endured the difficulty of getting an appointment with the pediatrician for a screaming child’s earache … will see the local retail clinic as an attractive alternative.”

The editorial adds, “The clinics also provide a less costly and less system-clogging option for those working poor or uninsured people who rely upon emergency rooms for nonemergency needs.” The editorial concludes, “If you can get your problem taken care of without the trappings of an office visit, your path to treatment should be unimpeded” (Chicago Sun-Times, 6/24).
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