Slowly but surely, my long-time primary care provider drove me into the arms of another. It all began when I noticed that drugstores were offering drop-in flu shots while my provider required an appointment and 15 minutes in the waiting room before giving the vaccine. Then there was that bout of bronchitis that needed immediate, not "next available appointment is two days from now" attention. After that, I was practically looking for opportunities to stray: a sinus infection while on vacation, a case of pink eye on a Saturday. My needs were being met elsewhere.
The final straw? A tiny cut on my leg swelled up, turning red, hot and painful with infection. When I called my current provider, an internal medicine practice with more than 30 physicians in two locations, I was told there were no appointments available for the next three days. Even after I explained the problem. Even after I begged.
So, I rushed to a retail clinic a few miles from my home. After self-registering and a brief wait, I saw a nurse practitioner who identified the infection, beamed a prescription over to the nearby pharmacy counter and gave me a handout explaining the diagnosis. In the days following, the clinic called to check on me and sent an email with a link to a survey about its performance. I was in love.
Retail clinics aren't perfect, of course. They treat a narrow range of illnesses, their exam rooms can feel like supply closets and wait times are unpredictable. Still, my clinic has an electronic health record that stores my prescription history. It's open seven days a week, often in the evening. And the co-pay is cheaper than when I see a physician at my current practice, assuming it can fit me in.
There is a moral to this modern love story. Patients want health care when and where it's convenient. They don't want phone mazes and lengthy waits keeping them from their jobs, families and other obligations. Health care organizations must extend care into communities, using more than physician practices to do so. And if they don't? They can kiss more patients like me goodbye.