Retail remedies

With a glut of walk-in clinics now adorning the high streets and supermarkets of the UK and US, it seems only a matter of time before the UAE is boasting its own brand of ‘health-marts’.

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By  Joanne Bladd Published  September 13, 2006

Could Boots’ arrival in the Middle East spell future walk-in clinics for consumers?

With a glut of walk-in clinics now adorning the high streets and supermarkets of the UK and US, it seems only a matter of time before the UAE is boasting its own brand of ‘health-marts’.

By all accounts, high street healthcare is proving to be big business for big businesses. This year alone has seen pharmacy giant Boots (now gracing the malls of the Middle East) announce plans to open GP surgeries in its UK branches and US juggernaut Wal-Mart roll out 50 new in-store clinics.

A new UK venture called ‘The Mole Clinic’ made headlines last month, offering skin cancer consultations to concerned consumers. Already the chain claims to have detected more than 100 melanomas, making it hard to argue against the benefits.

And yet the set-up makes me uneasy. The budget-cost, high turnover approach I have come to associate with big brand names is not something I would like to see replicated in a healthcare environment. When it comes to potentially life-threatening decisions, visiting a facility called the ‘Minute Clinic’ somehow fails to fill me with confidence.

Supporters of high street healthcare claim that walk-in clinics fill a legitimate consumer need, relieving pressure on mainstream services. Pointing to overstretched hospitals, they argue that holistic patient care is a thing of the past in all sectors – not just on the high street.

The fact remains that these clinics do offer fast, low-cost advice to time and money-short consumers. For patients without healthcare insurance, the fixed cost of a one-time appointment is very appealing, and surely some care is better than no care.

But my overriding concern is, what happens when it’s bad news? By default, these clinics offer limited follow-up facilities and, as every healthcare professional knows, it’s rare for a patient to fully assimilate a shock diagnosis on the spot.

The conveyor-belt set-up of these facilities would make it all too easy for cases to slip through the net.

Ultimately, the acid test is; how would you feel about treating patients in this environment? Are these clinics a genuinely valuable tool, or a move away from responsible patient care?

High street versus holistic - what do you think?

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