The Bigger Picture: Converted in a Minute

September 1, 2006

Nothing will change your mind about so-called “minute clinics” faster than a contagious 3-year-old on a Sunday afternoon.


My 3-year-old is so generous. On a Sunday a few months ago, he gave me conjunctivitis. Perfect timing. There we were, looking like pink-eyed bunnies who hadn’t slept in a week, without an open physician’s office to be found.

A quick call to our pediatrician’s line got us the local children’s hospital, a nurse, and a prescription for my little friend, but I was stuck. (Pediatric practices really know how to handle the after-hours thing; I guess too many calls from moms worried about every bump and cough will encourage that sort of success.)

I was looking for a new primary-care physician at the time, so there was no one I felt comfortable calling on a Sunday to ask for a prescription without a visit. I faced the prospect of sticking it out a day, then calling an internist’s office on a busy Monday to get double-booked on my own hectic workday - and continuing to suffer in the meantime. Really, if you’ve never had pinkeye - it’s gross.

With no alternatives, I remembered the minute-clinic-type office that just opened up the street. It’s one of those walk-in, quick-stop places, next to a smoothie shop.

I drove up.

The neon “Open” sign seared my crusty eyes. Ah, medication was near at hand.

Within roughly 20 minutes, I was checked in, checked out, and on my way to the lone open pharmacy. (This may be the only time in my life I am truly grateful for Wal-Mart.)

Did my visit to a quick-stop clinic betray you, my usually more traditional physician reader?

I think not. These clinics serve a unique niche and actually help traditional practices more than they hurt them.

Here’s why:

If I’d had a regular primary-care physician, I would have called her. Practices that can retain (picky) patients like me don’t have to worry about walk-in clinics.

But let’s be honest: would my primary-care physician really want me to call her on a Sunday about pinkeye? I’m thinking she’d rather be working in the garden or nagging her spouse about the lawn or something.

In fact, I think a lot of primary-care physicians would have less frenetic and more lucrative practices if, indeed, many such routine, if urgent, needs were handled at shopping malls. That leaves them free to work more complex and interesting cases with their higher reimbursement levels rather than double-booking to squeeze in every sore throat, hangnail, and minor infection.

Why not embrace the concept instead of resisting it? You could forge a happy business relationship with the quickie clinic in your area and leave a recording on your after-hours message directing patients there when they don’t want to wait to see you. I’m not talking about emergencies, post-surgical complications, and so on - just the routine stuff that you’d typically handle over the phone. As long as you get a report and know what happened, will you really miss the “opportunity” to take a couple phone conversations every weekend - for free?

I didn’t think so.

What do you think of the explosion of quick-care clinics? Write to me at pmoore@physicianspractice.com.

This article originally appeared in the September 2006 issue of Physicians Practice.