Clinics likely to see healthcare-related influx, according to LA Times report

NEW YORK — With the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act extending health insurance to some 30 million Americans amid an already fragile primary care network, retail-based health clinics are likely to see an influx of patients turning to them for healthcare services.

This will be especially true in California. According to a Los Angeles Times article published Monday, nearly 3-out-of-4 California counties already lack a sufficient number of family physicians. By 2020, the estimated shortage of primary care doctors within the United States is expected to hit 40,000. Healthcare reform will result in an estimated 4 million Californians receiving health coverage, the article stated.

"People could have long wait times to see a doctor as the federal law gets implemented in 2014, and that will drive more interest in these retail clinics," Ateev Mehrotra, a researcher at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine and Rand Corp., a nonprofit think tank in Santa Monica, was quoted as saying to the Los Angeles Times.

The article comes as the convenient care industry gathers in Kissimmee, Fla., to attend the 2012 Retail Clinician Education Congress and to celebrate National Convenient Care Clinic Week, which touts the work of retail-based, convenient care clinics around the country and raises awareness of their accessible and cost-effective healthcare options.

The fifth annual RCEC event, hosted by The Drug Store News Group and the Convenient Care Association, is a four-day educational and networking forum designed to meet the needs of the growing field of convenient care practitioners. RCEC brings together retail clinicians from across the country to fine-tune their skills, while earning continuing education credits and learning about the latest products and services the industry has to offer.

There currently are more than 1,350 retail-based health clinics nationwide, and the article noted that the number could top 3,000 by 2016. According to the report, researchers have said that California and many states have enough medical providers to serve the overall population but they are distributed unevenly, which produces shortages in many inner-city and rural areas. The problem is expected to worsen as more primary care doctors retire and medical school graduates continue to choose more lucrative specialties, in part to help pay off their student debt.

California State Sen. Ed Hernandez, chairman of the Senate Health Committee, said that California must take numerous steps to address this issue and that the state is considering legislation that would expand the scope of practice for nurse practitioners so they can treat more patients directly with limited physician oversight, the Los Angeles Times reported.

"We will be requiring everyone to purchase health insurance, but what good is coverage if they can't see someone for care?" Hernandez said in the article.

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