Thursday, August 02, 2007

Health Care Emerges?

Web Golinkin writes about the emergence of convenient care ($$$) health clinics:
"Convenient care clinics are small health-care facilities with new brand names like RediClinic, MinuteClinic, and Take Care Health Clinics. Most are located in high-traffic retail outlets with pharmacies, such as Wal-Mart, CVS and Walgreen stores. Regional health-care systems have also opened retail-based clinics in their service areas, either directly or in partnerships with independent operators. These clinics generally are staffed by certified nurse practitioners who diagnose, treat and prescribe medications for a limited set of common ailments, such as strep throat and ear infections. They also administer health screenings, medical tests, immunizations, basic physical exams and other preventive care.

Convenient care clinics have been embraced by consumers, who give them consistently high marks for patient satisfaction: 97% of the more than 4,000 RediClinic patients surveyed this year said they would recommend RediClinic to their relatives and friends. This is because the clinics are delivering something that is all too rare in our system -- convenient and affordable health care.

The quality of care at convenient care clinics stems from their use of nationally certified nurse practitioners, who are registered nurses with master's degrees or comparable advanced training. Research over the past 30 years has consistently shown that the primary care provided by nurse practitioners is comparable in quality to that provided by physicians, though nurse practitioners are still required to collaborate with local physicians in most states."

This is very interesting because it seems that it may be an illustration of how people who are free to bear risk discover entrepreneurial opportunities to make a profit by supplying services others need. I suppose some might say this is "the market at work." Certainly it suggests to me that those who want to try to fix the problems many associate with our health care system today by turning to the government and its coercion may be looking in the wrong direction.

Are these convenient care clinics a good idea? One way to judge this question is simply to wait and see if they are sufficiently profitable to continue to be viable businesses.

But, is there a way to get some idea about the answer to this question without having to wait and see? Consider:
"There are about 400 such clinics today and could be several thousand more in the next few years, but their growth is being threatened by burdensome regulations in some states and opposition from some corners of organized medicine."
And, also:
"Some physician organizations, however, including ones in Illinois and Massachusetts, are pushing for new regulations that would impede the growth of convenient care clinics through expensive permitting requirements (which physician practices do not have to face), further limitations on the number of nurse practitioners that an individual physician can supervise, and prohibitions against advertising that compares the fees of convenient care clinics with those of physicians. This is exactly the kind of price transparency our health-care system needs. In addition, the American Medical Association passed resolutions at its recent annual meeting that push for government intervention, legislation and other measures that could curtail the expansion of convenient care clinics.

Opposition to convenient care from some parts of the medical community is made under the pretext of wanting to ensure quality and continuity of care, which is a legitimate but thus far unfounded concern. But the opposition is also about wanting to maintain the status quo even in the face of rapidly escalating costs and a growing shortage of primary-care physicians."
Ah, yes, this is familiar to me. Some people in the health care industry perceive these convenient care clinics as threats, and they are choosing to turn to government in order to use it's coercion and power maintain the status quo to their advantage. Instead of competing to supply a service to customers, they turn to the use of force which is found in government policy. This looks like yet another classic illustration of rent seeking, and it suggests to me that these emerging new clinics are likely to be a good idea.

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