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Fam Pract Manag. 2006;13(7):16

I am a family physician who was in private practice for 21 years. After a personal life change, I began working in an urgent care center. These centers appear to be a step between private practice and retail health clinics.

I do not see retail health clinics as a threat to private practice but as a source of growth for private practice. The relationship is more symbiotic than antagonistic. Retail health clinics don’t have the capability to perform procedures that have high reimbursement rates. They treat patients with minor problems that the average primary care physician is too busy to handle regularly. This can lighten the physician’s call load significantly, which heightens quality of life.

In our urgent care center, we have the capability to provide these services when the primary care physician is unable to. Despite what some family physicians fear, I actively resist providing chronic illness care, and I strongly encourage patients with chronic illnesses to find a primary care physician. Our urgent care center could easily fill a family physician’s office with insured patients by referral and would be happy to do so.

Retail health clinics are competitors that further erode our ability to make a living as family physicians. No other licensed industry would put up with this type of competition. Yet family physicians, including AAFP president Dr. Larry Fields, say that retail health clinics are “something to use in a pinch or in a hurry or when you’re not too sick.” Unfortunately, until our profession has more business sense, we all must put up with low reimbursement.


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