Nine Rite Aid pharmacies in Detroit now have NowClinic Online Care services, which are the first virtual retail medical clinics. Rite Aid says it believes that the service will give customers the convenience of instant access to health-care consultations.
Through a partnership with health-care-services provider OptumHealth, NowClinic allows consumers to have a webcam consultation with a health-care provider to discuss minor ailments or to receive basic health advice. NowClinic physicians even can write a prescription for a patient.
The development of virtual retail medical clinics could be convenient for consumers who seek general health advice, but concerns remain about the quality of care that a customer would receive.
To use a NowClinic, a patient enters a private room near the pharmacy department where he/she creates an electronic account to access NowClinic’s online network. He/she then can choose to pay a fee—typically $45 for a 10-minute consultation—to speak with a doctor or a physician assistant via webcam about a specific ailment or get free advice about general health from one of OptumHealth’s registered nurses or nurse practitioners. The consultation cost it isn’t covered by insurance. Only doctors and physician assistants can diagnose and prescribe medications for a customer.
American Medical Association questions the effect that retail medical clinics have on the continuity of care between a patient and a doctor, which was noted in “Why Drugstore Clinics Are Under Fire,” in our March/April 2011 issue. A spokesperson for AMA said that the organization hadn’t heard about the NowClinic service and declined to comment on the development of a virtual retail medical clinic.
Charles Grothaus, who is a spokesperson for OptumHealth, says the service aims to help customers who have minor ailments such as influenza. He says a NowClinic health-care provider would refer a customer to his/her primary-care doctor if the patient has any chronic conditions.
But at this point, a NowClinic health-care provider can’t take a customer’s vital signs. This begs the question as to whether anyone can diagnose an ailment properly and treat a patient if you don’t have that basic information. Grothaus says it’s up to the patient to have his/her recent medical history or relevant test results handy when the patient visits a NowClinic. We believe that this is unsatisfactory.
Retail medical clinics have become popular partly because of their walk-in convenience. Consequently, it might have been some time since a patient has seen his/her primary-care doctor, and the previous information would be outdated and could lead to a misdiagnosis. Some conditions, such as strep throat, must be confirmed through a test, which the online medical practitioner is unable to perform in person. In other words, a customer could pay $45 to be told simply to consult his/her primary-care doctor.
We believe that patients should skip the middleman and seek a live consultation with a health-care provider.
– K. Fanuko