When I first started working in retail health, I remember feeling I would lose the clinician-patient relationships I had enjoyed in other care settings. It didn’t take long to realize that my fear was truly unfounded. Many people assume that, because of the nature of retail health care, there is little opportunity to build relationships with patients. I have found, however, that clinician-patient relationships in such settings can be just as long-lasting as those in other primary-care settings.
Although our encounters with patients in the retail setting may be brief, that doesn’t mean our relationships need be fleeting. Of course, it is easy in a retail clinic to get into the mode of seeing patients as quickly as possible and, if one is not careful, this mindset can lead to missing out on developing relationships with patients and their families. In reality, the dynamics of the clinician-patient relationship in retail health are no different from those of other relationships in life. With each patient encounter, it is the quality of time spent together, not the quantity, that determines its long-term impact.
We can learn a lot about patients and their families in our brief clinic interactions, and meaningful encounters are what bring patients back to the clinic. The Palmers were the first family to enlighten me on this. Their first clinic visit was for their youngest child, Susan. A few weeks later they returned, bringing their oldest son, Matthew. Over the course of a month, everyone in the family came to the clinic for one reason or another. With each visit, I learned more about the family members and their health. Before long, I had a working knowledge of their health history. After a few months, I realized, much to my surprise, that my relationship with the Palmers was similar to what I had experienced as a clinician in an office setting. Because of the trust that had been built, they saw our clinic as a resource for their health care needs, and I enjoyed caring for them.
It has been years since I first met and cared for the Palmers. Since then, I have had the privilege of getting to know many other families and people in the community. As a retail clinician, I understand that what brings patients to the door is the convenience of the retail setting and, as a provider, I also recognize that what keeps people coming back to the clinic is the nurturing relationship that develops. This is true throughout the various models of health care. Ideally, with each encounter, we strive to learn more about our patients and their families.
As I reflect on the role of retail clinicians, I realize the unique perspective I’ve gained in this role. I am glad my stereotypes have been shattered and that I can come to work each day with the confidence of knowing that the connection I make with each patient at each visit helps me positively impact my community as a whole. RNL
Kristene C. Diggins, DNP, RN, teaches part time for the University of Phoenix online.