COLUMBUS, Ohio - Health clinics are popping up around Ohio in retail stores and pharmacies, and new data reveal these newer models of health care improve access to medical treatment.
The 2018 Ohio Health Issues Poll, released by Interact for Health, found that about one in five Ohio adults (18 percent) has visited a retail clinic in the past year, primarily for treating an illness or getting a vaccination.
Dr. Miller Sullivan, medical director of Franklin County Public Health, said having a regular health-care home is important for management and prevention of disease. However, he contended that these clinics are proving to be a cost-effective alternative to an emergency room for after-hours care.
"The whole goal is to keep people healthy, and if they're sick, to help them get back to good health," he said. "And so, when these 'minute clinics' first came out, I think several of us were wary about them; are they going to provide good service? Are they going to take away our business? And I think basically anything that is allowing anyone to get good care is appropriate."
The reasons respondents said they had used a retail clinic were because they couldn't get an appointment with their regular doctor, it was more affordable, or they found it more convenient.
Sullivan said retail health clinics especially are popular during cold and flu season. With walk-in availability and extended hours, he said, it's easy to access treatment or get an annual flu shot.
"While not 100 percent perfect by any means, it goes a long way to preventing serious problems in many people," he said. "So really, anywhere you can get a flu vaccine is good - your primary care physician, the minute clinics. You can also get it just from the pharmacy itself."
The survey also asked about telemedicine - live, real-time video conversations with care providers. While just 4 percent of Ohio adults say they've ever used telemedicine, nearly six in 10 said they'd be open to trying it. As it evolves, however, Sullivan said he believes telemedicine may need tweaking to ensure it can provide effective care.
"Someone can say, 'Oh, I have a sore throat.' Well, can you really diagnose them with strep throat just by looking at the throat and hearing what they say? And the answer is no," he said. "As this becomes more prevalent, they need to decide how we can properly use it and still follow good medical-practice guidelines."
This is the first time the annual survey asked about retail clinics or telemedicine. Sullivan said tracking the data will help monitor the utilization and effectiveness of these newer models of care over time.
The survey results are online at interactforhealth.org.