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Ditching the family doctor

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CHARLOTTE, NC (WBTV) -

If you haven't been to see your family doctor in a while, you're not alone. More people are looking for less expensive and more convenient ways to get medical care.

The marketplace is responding.

Target, Walgreens and CVS stores across the country are growing the number of retail medical clinics they operate. In the Charlotte region alone there are 26 CVS MinuteClinic locations. Nationwide CVS operates 650 clinics in 25 states and the District of Columbia. By 2017 they project to have 1,500 clinics in operation. The company is adding 150 in this year alone.

CVS is where Christi Milledge and her family typically end up.

"If I know its something like pink eye or strep, I love a MinuteClinic," Milledge said.

It is near her house, she knows she'll be in and out quickly, and a visit to her primary care doctor can be more of a commitment.

"With our insurance its also so much cheaper than a primary care visit," she added.

Milledge is one of a growing number of people turning to retail clinics.

According to researchers at Rand Health the first clinics began opening in 2000, and by 2010 they numbered close to 1,200. Now there are even more.

The number of visits quadrupled from 2007 to 2009.

Primary care physicians, like Dr. Charles Rhodes who is a member of the board of the North Carolina Academy of Family Physicians, are aware of the trend.

"I think the entire primary care community got this message," he said.

There's another player in the marketplace, too. Companies like FastMed based in North Carolina are providing more now than just after-hours urgent care.

"For example we might offer $10 or $15 sports physicals," said eastern region President and CEO Dr. Jason Williams.

The company is catering to what they say is becoming a competitive and consumer driven healthcare market.

"Price cautious and quality conscious choice will become common for healthcare participants," Dr. Williams told WBTV.

The belief is the need will only continue to rise with the Affordable Care Act.

"You'll have more than 30 million new people in healthcare system, as many as 1.6 million in North Carolina, and they're going to need access points," Williams said.

The Rand Health study backs that up indicating more people with insurance drives up the need for primary care doctors which could reduce patient access.

Dr. Rhodes does believe retail clinics and urgent care centers have their place but says the problem with seeing different practitioners all the time is that there is no continuity of care.

"The most valuable tool a doctor has is the relationship they have with their patient. The best care and most cost effective care is in a medical home by the doctor who knows them and has known them for years," said Dr. Rhodes.

One effort to link retail clinics, urgent care centers, and primary care doctors is through digital record keeping. A CVS spokesperson tells WBTV all patients records, with permission, are sent to the patient's primary care physician within 24 hours of their MinuteClinic appointment. If a patient does not have a primary care doctor, they're given a list of doctors in their area accepting new patients.

Still some centers and providers don't have access to digital record keeping. To hear more about that, watch the web exclusive video on this page.

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