The AMA: Protectionist to the Core

Radley Balko catalogues some of the wackier things going on at the American Medical Association annual meeting this week.  However, those who were worried that the AMA may have abandoned its old tricks should have no fear.

Among the topics the AMA will consider this week is a call for increased regulation of “convenience clinics” that offer an alternative to the physician’s office (and thus threaten physicians’ incomes).  Such clinics are mushrooming in locations like retail stores.  They provide quick access to basic care by trained nurse practitioners, who refer patients to physicians when necessary.  According to a Chicago Tribune report:

“We see lots of minor illnesses like colds, sore throats, and write a lot of prescriptions, typically for viruses,” said Maxwell, who views her clinic as a complement to a physician’s care. “It’s a place they can go when the doctor’s office is closed.”

…As at most other retail clinics, the operators say their offices are open seven days a week, with evening hours, and no appointment is necessary. A doctor comes by to review charts and other decisions made by the nurse practitioners but typically does not see patients.

Such clinics advertise that they will treat patients with routine maladies in 15 minutes or less, the amount of time you might spend in a waiting room at a doctor’s office as physicians pack more patients into a day.

There’s a very simple solution that the AMA could recommend to physicians who feel threatened by the competition:

  1. Expand your office hours;
  2. Shorten your waiting times;
  3. Lower your prices.

But that’s wishful thinking.  The AMA has a long history of using state power to restrict consumer freedom when that freedom might threaten its members’ incomes.  That unsavory tradition is alive and well.