Written By Sherwood Kohn

As if we needed further evidence that the nation’s health care system was badly in need of overhaul, the very existence and burgeoning of walk-in health clinics indicates that they came into being to fill a huge gap in personal patient treatment.

The number of American doctors in residency who choose to enter a primary care practice, according to a 2008 Government Accounting Office study, declined from 23,801 in 1995 to 22,146 in 2006, and the trend is continuing.

“The Journal of the American Medical Association,” wrote Jane E. Brody in The New York Times of September 29, 2008, reports that “the number of medical students choosing to train in internal medicine is down, and young physicians are leaving the field.”

“There is a crisis in medicine today, and it will not be fixed by any candidate’s proposal to provide health insurance for the 45 million Americans now without it,” said Brody. “ In fact, an increase in insured Americans could make it worse.”

Physicians are feeling the pressure of economics as well as time. If you have a primary care physician (PCP), you have probably waited longer than 20 minutes to see the doctor, spent little time talking to him or her and felt that he or she has little time to monitor your health. Most PCPs have specific weekday office hours and do not see patients on weekends.

On the other end of the spectrum, people who cannot afford medical insurance or a PCP, either use hospital emergency rooms for primary care or do without.

Walk-in clinics take the pressure off both patients and doctors. They are organized to relieve physicians of the burden of paperwork, giving them the opportunity to see patients in a timely fashion, without appointments, and they not only accept insurance compensation, but will often arrange payments on an individual basis.

Moreover, they are set up to handle non-emergency health problems and do not cost the taxpayers money. Hospital emergency rooms, on the other hand, do. If you do not have a regular PCP and your child has a sore throat, the walk-in health clinic is a convenient solution. And the clinicians can catch an infection before it gets worse.

In the context of Congress’ recent health care overhaul, the walk-in health clinic would appear to be a natural fit. Walk-in health clinics are generally privately run, state-licensed as a physician’s practice, profit-making, accept insurance, are widely affordable and attract doctors who might find private practice burdensome or unaffordable.

In general, it looks as if the walk-in clinic may be the wave of the future in hands-on medical care, regardless of the form that insurance takes. At the very least, the trend should help promote better life-long health for individuals and society.