The article Pediatricians v Retail Clinics: Is It Time to Think Beyond the Office Visit? published today at, highlights an important shift occurring in the delivery of physician services.  Patients are foregoing their regular physician office visits in favor of  “as-needed” treatment from retail clinics, urgent care centers and walk-in clinics springing up around the Country.  These outlets may certainly offer a convenient and sometimes cost-effective alternative to traditional appointment based medical office visits.  However, continuity of care may be jeopardized where a retail clinic provider does not have access to a patient’s medical history. Even a written medical record may not give a provider as clear of an understanding of a patient’s history as a patient’s regular treating physician may have after years of monitoring and treating that patient.

With so much focus on the cost and efficiency of healthcare, it is no wonder that physician services are becoming commoditized.  Where cost and convenience are a patient’s primary focus, popping in to the local big-box store makes sense.  Of course, many retail and walk-in clinics and urgent care centers offer excellent healthcare services.  However, the value of an on-going physician/patient relationship should not be overlooked.

Here are some steps physicians can take to enhance the value of the physician/patient relationship:

  • Spend a few extra minutes with your patients to be sure that their questions are answered.  The last thing a physician should ask the patient:  “Do you have any other questions or concerns I can help you with?”.
  • Create a mechanism for patients to get their questions answered when they are not in the office.  Patients may have questions and concerns before or after their office visits.  Giving patients access to you through email (subject to HIPAA), during scheduled telephone time, or by cell phone is a great way to maintain a close professional relationship with them.
  • Be prepared to discuss alternative treatments and treatment trends.  In the age of the internet, you have to expect that patients will research their sypmtoms, diagnoses and treatment options.  Consider doing some general internet research on the common problems you see in your office (e.g., common cold treatments, headaches, arthritis) so you have an idea what your patients may be reading and can anticipate some of their questions.
  • More and more patients are interested in holistic and alternative treatments.  Whether you believe in the benefits of dietary supplements, for example, your patients may elect to use them; so, you should have a basic understanding of the risks and benefits of common supplements (e.g.,  Chondroitin for joint pain) and be prepared to counsel your patients on the use of them.
  • Finally, have helpful literature on hand in the office on various common conditions that you can give patients during their visits.  Let’s face it, not all of the medical information a patient finds onlne is going to be safe or necessarily effective.  Handpicking articles enables you to select the literature that you believe sends a safe and effective message.