The Doctor Will Be With You in a Minute—Or Not


“I recently went to a new doctor and noticed he was located in something called the Professional Building. I felt better right away.” ~ George Carlin

Doctor’s waiting rooms are not high on anyone’s list of fun places to be. The process is typically slow and cumbersome. In fact, two-thirds of people said waiting to see the doctor was the most stressful thing about going to their MD, according to a recent study. The tension of waiting can lead to tempers flaring.

Last fall, in Gainsville Florida, a doctor was caught on video yelling at a patient to “get the hell out” after she complained about waiting to be seen. She had been waiting for a little over an hour and when she aggressively complained about the wait, the doctor pointed her to an alternative clinic where the wait is 3 hours, or the emergency room where the wait is 9 hours, before rudely escorting her out. There are, of course, two sides to this story, but it does illustrate how fraught with tension a traditional visit to the doctor’s office can be. Thus, there is a great deal of interest in alternative ways of seeking medical attention.

Previously we have seen that Americans—and their physicians—are open to virtual, online consultations and other virtual visits. “Patients are eager, and physicians are willing,” was how we summed it up.

Recently we asked 1,500 Americans about their knowledge of and experience with various settings for medical appointments and probed their interest in using retail walk-in clinics. Currently, retail walk-in clinics are used by a small minority, and the same is true for online video conferencing. Most just sit and wait in a traditional office, where research has shown that almost everyone waits between 10 and 30 minutes.

We gave people a description of a retail walk-in clinic: “Retail walk-in clinics are located in retail stores, supermarkets and pharmacies where you will be treated by a nurse-practitioner. They treat uncomplicated minor illnesses and provide preventative care services.” We asked people if they would use a “Retail Walk-in Clinic (e.g. CVS MinuteClinic) the next time you needed this type of care, assuming one was at your local pharmacy?”

There is a great deal of openness to these kinds of retail walk-ins. Fully 60% said they would be willing to use such a retail walk-in clinic. Younger people were much more open to it than those 55+. The university educated were also more interested.

One respondent hit on all the common attractors when they said: “convenience, close proximity to home/office, short waiting time, affordable” is why they would use a retail walk-in vs going to their primary care physician’s office.

There is great opportunity for retail walk-ins to grab a significant share of healthcare visits. The convenience and cost differential are appealing. And then there is the waiting time. A quick in and out vs. hour-long waits and avoiding month-long appointment queues are major attractions.

Healthcare is on the cusp of significant change. The old sit-in-the-waiting-room and hope to eventually be seen by a doctor is not sustainable. People are used to smoother transactions. It used to be that to pay a bill you had to send a check or pay at the bank. Nowadays everything is electronic and even tappable. Booking travel used to be visiting a travel agent. Today it is all online. Shopping used to involve fighting the crowds at the mall. Now it is answering the door with delivery from Amazon Prime. Times change.

The old paradigm of waiting to be seen is ripe for revolution. Virtual visits and retail walk-ins seem to be the wave of the future. To learn more about our research in this area, contact us.

To learn more about our work on innovation in healthcare check out our articles:

Digital Health in a Time of Transformation: Technology Changes Everything

The Future of Healthcare: Physicians and Patients Working Together to Innovate

The AI Will See You Now: Americans Welcome Digital Health

The Digital Health Revolution: Stay on Top in Times of Disruption

AI and the Future of Healthcare: An Interview with Dr. Alberto Distefano

Digital Health: Waiting for the Human Touch That Tips the Scales

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