Part of the reason they are such a poor medical facility is due to the people treating most of the patients. NPs and PAs, free from a great deal of medical supervision, are often found handing out erroneous and falsified diagnoses - only to then treat everything with antibiotics or other unnecessary medications. An example of this irresponsible behavior is a story I heard recently encompassing most of these qualities:
A mother whose adult son had a sore throat and was too busy to get it evaluated, went to an urgent care clinic knowing that she could fake his symptoms and receive a Z-pack. This was done because her doctor wouldn’t normally give medicines unless specific tests were positive. She, of course, received the antibiotics (despite having ANY illness) and proceeded to give it to her adult son.
This kind of malpractice (for it really is irresponsible medicine) only increases the drug resistant bacteria that we’re seeing and encourages patients to demand drugs they don’t need. What’s worse is the notion that medicine is like a cookbook and all symptoms should be treated the exact same, regardless of testing and patient profiles.
For all the complaining patients do about their long waits, the doctor’s refusal to give them some drug they read or heard about, or their increasing dubious belief that they are as able to diagnose themselves as effectively as their PCP these clinics are not the answer.
Consider the story above: what if the antibiotics given reacted badly with another medication, or had to be altered due to liver or renal failure, or caused a severe allergic reaction? All things that a PCP would most likely catch through charting or questioning but would characteristically be missed by a NP or PA trying to get as many people in and out of their fast-food-medicine chain as possible.
“What the hell do I care about giving medicines without proper test results? It’s a pain in the ass to do it any other way and it takes up valuable time. That's not what Walmart/ Walgreen's/ Target is paying me for”.
Instead of responsible and smart medicine, what you have are people who will not use medical evidence to properly treat patients and essentially run a medical McDonald’s – have it your way. Sore throat? STREP! Neck hurts? LORTAB! Sniffles? SINUSITIS! To add to this obvious disparity is the fact that these clinics are often owned by corporations who want people to be sick and have to go to their pharmacies. It's not rocket science to see how there's a conflict of interest.
Now I don’t think NPs, PAs, and CRNAs are entirely bad - quite the opposite. They are important in that their job role allows overworked physicians time to focus on the more complicated patients and running their practice while more minor ailments and procedures are analyzed and treated - after a quick review with the physician. However what I do find absurd is the idea that they can take care of patients without strict physician guidance as often occurs in these retail medical centers. Regardless of their time, they haven’t received the training requisite in order to differentiate between disease processes that appear very similar, nor is it expected.
If you still haven't jumped on the bandwagon, realize this: a nurse is trained in a very different way than a physician. They are not expected to figure out the pathophysiologic basis of a disease, the subtle interactions between comorbidities, the ever increasing need to be smarter about treating seemingly simple infections, and the evidence that alters treatment regimens amongst patients. Their training is based on recognizing a defect or a problem, alerting the appropriate people, and following a procedure or "order". If a patient has X, then give Y. If this happens, call the house officer or the patient’s doctor for direction. Adding a couple of years to the training does not inculcate the need to think beyond this automatic process, no matter how much you “shadow” a physician.
Experience certainly lends itself to making people think they know more than they really do. Twenty years in the ICU will definitely make you appear smarter than the intern or second year resident rotating through that service, but only for a brief period of time. Of course you’re going to know more about vent settings, how to respond to codes, etc. than a newly minted MD; but a seasoned physician, who has spent some of their time in the critical care arena will run circles around you - no matter how long you've worked there.
The physician trains in a wide array of specialties for which they are expected to understand a great deal of complexities, is responsible for the outcomes of their patients, and understands more about the overall process leading up to and currently occurring in that patient than an NP, PA, or tenured nurse could hope. A few decades of experience does not overcome the difference in education. A physician with twenty years including residency will always come out on top.
Residency is designed towards this goal. It is the resident’s training, adding on top of the knowledge procured through four intense years of medical school, that makes a physician more than just a “medical mechanic”. Performing a task a million times is not the same as medical knowledge. It is habit, and, as often seen when new policies are passed, is often hard to break.
Urgent care clinics are not the answer to the healthcare crisis. If we expect to take care of patients in better ways, to reduce drug resistant bacteria like the current MRSA “epidemic”, and have more advantagous outcomes we must realize that physicians are not replaceable by technicians. The years of training that doctors receive and the strict environment that they receive their education in makes a physician far more capable of truly evaluating patients. What you are receiving when you see a physician is a decade or more of increasingly detailed knowledge and arduous training that enables them to treat people effectively. Four to six years of training is not even close.