Family Medicine Doctors vs. Urgent Care Clinics
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Family Medicine Doctors vs. Urgent Care Clinics

This past summer, I learned that my middle son is allergic to pollen. In a dramatic way. OK, so it wasn’t life-threatening, but seeing your 4-year-old walk around the corner from the backyard with his eyes basically swollen shut is a bit jarring to say the least.

In those moments you just sort of go into action mode. Seconds later he was in his car seat, and we were heading out of the neighborhood toward . . . wait, where should I take him?

That’s when I remembered the urgent care clinic right around the corner. It was close, cheaper than the hospital, and likely faster . . . easy choice. We turned right on the main road and headed over.

Therein lies an issue for hospitals and, honestly, marketing teams trying to promote their doctors. An article in the NY Times recently noted the dramatic rise in popularity of urgent care clinics.

Why are these clinics gaining such momentum? While there are many reasons like cost and convenience, I would submit there’s an issue here we should all be aware of – the perceived commoditization of healthcare.

While there are many really great things that can come from more standardized care and processes, something that seems to also be changing is people’s perception of the unique value of the family doctor.

Surveys are showing that for all but the most acute or complex of issues, most people don’t mind just seeing a nurse or a physician assistant. Put another way, doctors are becoming a bit more of a commodity that people “buy” like any other commodity, often based on price and convenience.

Here is one quote I found interesting from a family doctor in the NY Times article:

“The relationship I have with my patients and the comprehensiveness of care I provide to them is important,” said Dr. Robert L. Wergin, a family physician in Milford, Neb., and the president-elect of the American Academy of Family Physicians. “While there is a role for these centers, if I were sick I’d rather see my regular doctor, and I hope my patients feel that way.”

It is understandable that he’d hope patients would feel that way. But the question is “Why would they?” Other than in situations where a personal relationship has been built, which is hard when you have to cram so many patients into a day, patients are beginning to care less about seeing a doctor for situations like this.

Good marketing begins by answering the question “What’s unique, different, and better about what I’m promoting?” Have you helped your primary care physicians articulate why they are worth seeing? What makes them unique, different, and better than the urgent care clinics? Are they convenient? Are they able to do more than the clinics? Or are they working in conjunction with the clinics?

If the only information people can find about your practices and doctors is what specialty they practice and how to reach them, why shouldn’t they just go to the local doc-in-a-box?

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