You have a sore throat, or maybe a rash. You could call your physician’s office and make an appointment, which could mean waiting for an opening and, then, schlepping across town. Or you could pop into the local Walgreens. You’ll probably see a nurse practitioner or medical assistant, rather than a physician. But you can go right away. You’ll get your prescription right there. And it might even be cheaper….A study of clinics in Minneapolis, where the MinuteClinic chain first established itself, found that they save $50 to $55 per episode….But the same study, which appeared in Health Affairs, warned that in-store clinics could actually raise overall costs if, by making medical care easier to access, it increased the overall use of services. This is the constant danger of any change that makes it easier for people to get medical care: They might take advantage of it.
Much of the debate over health care concerns how we pay for it, but improving the way we deliver and administer medical care will be one of the key elements of any successful health care reform. Subscription services are one way of doing this; big box clinics are another. There isn’t enough data to predict the large-scale effects of either of these, but both show a great deal of promise. Subscription services cut down on administrative overhead, while clinics make primary care the responsibility of nurses and nurse practitioners who can do the same basic treatments for less.It’s crucial that we experiment with these kinds of delivery innovations as much as possible. They might be the very thing that keeps our system from going bankrupt in the coming decades.[Walgreens image courtesy of Getty. CVS image courtesy of Wikipedia. Pills image courtesy of Shutterstock]