There are more than 6,000 medical clinics at pharmacies and other retail outlets in the United States. This week, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) said these retail medical clinics are detrimental to the partnership approach with families to provide primary health care that is accessible, family-centered, coordinated, comprehensive, continuous, compassionate, and culturally effective (also known as the “medical home“). They said these clinics, while growing in popularity, should not necessarily be where parents go to seek medical care for their children.
But that’s a pretty bold generalization. And really, are these doctors’ fears actually a good enough reason not to go to these clinics?
Don’t get me wrong: we loved our first pediatrician. He knew us well and never seemed to forget a face. When we moved to our new home, I sought out a new pediatrician. I couldn’t find an especially popular one in our new hometown, which in and of itself was telling.
When we finally settled on a new doctor for my son, I liked him well enough. But despite the fact my son had been diagnosed with a rare disease — which in theory should have made him memorable — the pediatrician always acted as if he’d never seen him before. He repeatedly asked the same general, routine questions, such as, “Are you eating your fruits and vegetables?”
It seemed he hadn’t even referred to a chart to get a reminder of my son’s illness. As a parent, this was unsettling.
Our kids’ doctors are booked solid as they try to fit in as many appointments as possible. We are asked repeatedly about our insurance and whether we need referrals. Then, we sit in office waiting rooms for what feels like forever. A nurse calls us in to get our kids’ height and weight (again) before being taken into a room where we wait (again). Finally, a doctor comes in and gives our kids a few minutes of his time. Sometimes, we parents get treated as if we have all flown to the appointment in our helicopters, and then we are shooed out the door again. Often, I fear, because medical offices are overbooked, these “relationships” families have with their doctors never have the potential to become relationships at all.
When I was a kid, going to the doctor’s office was a different story. Back then, the doctors recognized me by name. Even if they didn’t, at least they smiled at me. They asked me how soccer was going, or whether I finished the book I was reading the last time I was in the office. They made conversation. They called after the appointment to follow up.
Now, I am not saying that all doctors are cold, nor are all practices attempting to run like factories. I can sympathize with medical professionals on some level. Yet, the process of taking a child to the doctor is vastly different today than it was years ago. Hence the hole that is being filled with these types of clinics, at least for those of us who choose to use them — those parents who need quick care and need to confirm signs of strep throat, the common cold, or the like.
Several years ago, I took my son to what is considered among the most reputable children’s hospitals in the world. Upon meeting the doctor and his staff, I told them my concerns about my son’s health. They did routine blood work, and when it came back normal, they sent us on our way. When I still had these same concerns a few years later, we went to a different practice based on a recommendation from a friend. They, too, did the routine blood work, and when it again came back normal, they did not send us on our way. They looked me in the eye, stated that they believed in my concerns, and even though the initial tests were normal, they would like to do a few more tests.
Sure enough, there was something medically wrong with my son, something that could have impacted the rest of his life were it not for the doctors who treated us like people with valid concerns rather than rushing out another helicopter mom and her nameless, faceless kid.
I appreciated that the doctor seemed to truly care for my son’s well-being, and I was encouraged to take him there again for future health concerns. If you ask me, that’s a pretty darn good sign of a potential relationship.
Despite the Academy’s recommendation, I will continue to bring my children to these clinics for routine illnesses like strep throat or an ear infection, because I feel confident that if I can figure out my son has these illnesses, so can a nurse practitioner at a clinic. Instead of writing off these clinics as inadequate, why don’t doctors and the Academy of Pediatrics consider ways to improve upon their practices if they want parents to return to their offices for routine care? That way, they’d be showing genuine concern — and that’s what these doctor-patient relationships come down to, anyway.
Photo credit: EatSleepBe.com
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