An April 2019 news story published by KSTP News in Minneapolis discussed how family medicine in the U.S. has changed with the advent of new technologies and different practice models. The basic premise of the story is that telemedicine and walk-in clinics are changing the role of the traditional family practitioner.
While some may view that as a negative thing, it is more positive for both patients and doctors. Options give clinicians more choices for how they want to practice. They give patients more latitude in how they seek care. Options are good, aren’t they?
The Rise of Telemedicine
One of the practice areas cited by KSTP was that of telemedicine. As an emerging form of medicine, there are several different models through which telemedicine is offered. One is a model that combines telemedicine with standard family practice to enable patients to see their physicians without having to schedule an office appointment.
This form of telemedicine has proven especially helpful in rural areas. It allows practices in larger cities to still serve rural patients by offering them telemedicine for day-to-day care and limited office hours for more serious matters.
Another telemedicine model takes advantage of the on-demand economy and mobile apps. The last few years have seen the rise of a handful of companies who contract with clinicians to provide app-based service for routine, non-emergency care.
New Walk-in Clinics
KSTP gave a lot of attention to walk-in clinics in their story. And why not? Walk-in clinics have emerged even faster than telemedicine. They are the result of a number of different market forces all working together to offer an entirely different way of seeking family medicine.
Walk-in clinics have been established by hospital groups looking to serve patients who would otherwise go to the emergency room. These types of clinics do extremely well in busy urban areas. They are staffed with employed doctors and a rotating selection of locum tenens providers brought in to meet demand during peak times.
The pharmacy, grocery store, and department store clinics popping up all over the country are also meeting that same demand of patients who don’t have regular family doctors. But there is something else in play here. In many states, nurse practitioners and physician assistants have been cleared to provide routine primary care. Many of these clinicians are taking the opportunity presented by working at walk-in clinics.
Employer Health Clinics
Finally, more family medicine is being offered by employer health clinics nowadays. Employers have discovered that they can better manage their health insurance premiums by setting up workplace clinics for routine primary care. KSTP counts convenience among the many reasons people would choose employer clinics over the physician’s office.
All these options are great for clinicians who want to practice in a different kind of way. They offer opportunities for locums who may need one or two short-term assignments to fill in scheduling gaps. But what about patients? Why are they so quick to jump on these new options instead of visiting their doctors?
For many of them it’s really just a time thing. People have simply grown tired of sitting in the waiting room when they should be working, taking care of the kids, etc. They don’t have time for a system that simply takes too long. Telemedicine, walk-clinics, and workplace clinics all tend to be faster and more convenient to modern schedules.
There’s little doubt that the face of family medicine is changing with so many new options. But if options really do translate to freedom, what we’re seeing in family medicine is good for both clinicians and patients.