Health Care for People Too Busy for Doctor Visits

ByABC News
June 21, 2005, 3:38 PM

MINNEAPOLIS, June 21, 2005 — -- It's a growing trend in health care -- hundreds of thousands of Americans are bypassing the doctor's office and going straight to the mall when they come down with minor ailments.

Walk-in clinics could do for medicine what fast food did for dining: provide cheap, efficient service without the wait.

Natasha Banwart went to a suburban Minneapolis supermarket to do some shopping. On her list -- bananas, bagels and a test for strep throat.

"It was quick, it was easy," she said. "That's for sure."

The service is called MinuteClinic -- a tiny kiosk with a nurse practitioner inside.

Working mom Katie Ashburn was sick of long waits at her pediatrician's office.

"I just wanted to be able to come, get in and leave," she said.

Speed and convenience aren't the only reasons these clinics are popping up at Target stores, CVS pharmacies and supermarkets. It's also good for business.

If there is a wait at the clinic, patients are given pagers and encouraged to do their grocery shopping until the beeper goes off.

"Anything I can do to create door swings for our company to get the traffic into the stores is a plus for us," said Doug Windsor, vice president of operations for Cub Food Stores, which has MinuteClinics in some of its locations.

The clinics have treated close to a quarter million patients so far. They use software designed by doctors to diagnose about 24 common ailments, listed like a fast food menu outside the kiosk.

Prices for treatments and screenings start at $25. Treatments for bronchitis, pink eye and ear infections are a fraction of the cost of a typical doctor visit.

The idea behind MinuteClinic is to do for medicine what ATMs did for banking, but clinic operators say they are no substitute for the family doctor.

"In the same way I wouldn't go to an ATM to take out a mortgage on my house, I wouldn't go to a MinuteClinic for appendicitis," said Linda Hall Whitman, chief executive officer of MinuteClinic.

Some doctors question whether patients are aware of the risks.

"If you go to the MinuteClinic and you think you might have the flu, there are a lot of things with symptoms like the flu," said Rick Wade, a spokesman for the American Hospital Association.

But some health officials say having access to good medical care is more important.

"The basic issue," said Dr. William Brody, president of The Johns Hopkins University, "is to make sure that people who need access to health care get it and they get it at the most affordable price and that the quality's the best we can provide."

ABC News' Barbara Pinto filed this report for "World News Tonight."