Commoditization of Doctors

by F.

Could walk-in clinics change the face of medical care? Maybe.

Walk-in clinics are a rapidly growing feature of the US healthcare landscape. Companies such as Minute Clinic, owned by US drugstore chain CVS, RediClinic, Care Clinic and Take Care are expected to have several thousand retail clinics open by the end of next year….

At Wal-Mart these days, customers can fill up a shopping trolley with groceries, clothes and Christmas gifts, then step into a clinic for a vaccine jab.

This could drive innovation in medical record-keeping:

the booming industry has the potential to offer a lot more than a convenient place to treat the common cold. Advocates say they could fundamentally change how healthcare is managed in the US by providing the infrastructure for a nationally accessible system of electronic medical records.

Such records offer a way of tackling skyrocketing costs in healthcare provision. Records accessible nationally, or even internationally, could help doctors and nurses diagnose and treat patients’ illnesses quickly without repeating costly and time-consuming tests.

The full story is here.

I’m no expert on the economics of health-care, but perhaps the large number of uninsured will actually bring down health costs, as these consumers choose walk-in clinics (I use the word “choose” loosely), and the clinics lower costs to sell to this growing market.

Will the quality of the care provided be significantly lower? I doubt it. I would guess that the vast majority of ailments are easy to diagnose and cure. Sure, if you have something really strange it might not get diagnosed by the McDoctor. But it might get missed by the “real” doctor, too.

It has always seemed insane to me that there is medical insurance—a product that must distort prices for medical care beyond recognition.

I have no idea how this system historically developed, but it seems odd compared to other insurance products—fire, accident, life. Since fires and thefts are relatively rare (compared to getting sick), I wouldn’t think fire and theft insurance would distort the prices of replacement products (rebuilding your home; getting you a new Xbox after the last one got stolen). But sickness seems like another matter entirely. Maybe the uninsured will correct the distortionary effects of insurance because at some point a majority of consumers won’t have insurance.

But I’m sort of talking out of my ass.