Consumers are accustomed to new medical practices emerging in their community from time to time and so are physicians. This is not unusual, but now we are seeing a new kind of medical practice popping up all over the place. They are at Wal-Mart, Walgreens, and even on the corner strip malls. These new competitors are walk-in clinics, known by a variety of names, like Minute Clinic, promising easy access and convenience that is not always available in the typical medical practice — whether you are a primary-care physician or a specialist. So how do you compete?
First of all, don't assume you know more about these clinics than you actually do. Find out all you can about these clinics, and discover what you have to offer patients that they don't. You might even want to explore the possibility of collaborating with a local walk-in clinic, based on the unique services that your practice provides. For example, if its goal is to only see patients with an acute illness or injury, but not provide ongoing care, you might be able to secure referrals for patients needing follow-up care. If providers at the clinic treat a patient for a cough, but discover he has high blood pressure, could you become the cardiologist of choice? And if you don't treat patients for workers compensation injuries, perhaps there's an opportunity for cross referrals.
Many of these clinics are employing nurse practitioners or physician assistants. Meet these providers and talk about being available for consult, if they have questions when treating a patient that presents with unusual symptoms. Check out their qualifications, experience, and areas of expertise. If you feel confident in their capabilities, it might make sense to refer your patients to their clinic for urgent, after-hour care like an ankle sprain, a cough, or a fever — as long as patients know they should return to you for follow-up care. For patients that do not have serious symptoms, it can be more advantageous to visit a walk-in clinic than being seen in an emergency room that has higher costs and often longer wait times.
It's really all about better channels of communication and building a supportive clinical relationship that nurtures opportunities for collaborative patient care, improving patient compliance, and providing for continuity of care. Isn't that really what we all want? In the end, it may even contribute to managing medical expenses better without compromising clinical outcomes.