A few years ago, I was strolling around the aisles of my local CVS pharmacy when I remembered I needed to get a vaccine for an upcoming trip overseas. Lucky for me, I only had to walk a few feet across the store to get to a MinuteClinic (aka a retail health clinic). I quickly registered at the kiosk and was promptly called back to the exam room.
A few minutes later, I left CVS with a tube of Crest 3D White toothpaste, a king-sized Snickers bar (I’m not myself when I’m hungry) and a little extra immunity.
Retail Clinics Are Pretty Popular
Retail health clinics, like the one I visited at CVS, are becoming increasingly popular in the United States. There are thousands of these clinics operating in chain stores such as Walmart, Kroger, Walgreens, Target, CVS, and Rite-Aid.
Most are staffed by nurse practitioners or physician assistants who provide basic care for things like sore throats, ear infections, urinary tract infections, and pink eye. Impressively, many also offer wellness care such as physical exams, screenings, vaccines and even smoking cessation programs.
But before you head to the grocery store to get your sore throat looked at, it’s important to understand the pros and cons of these clinics. They’re not right for every patient.
Pros of Retail Health Clinics
- They’re Convenient
- No appointments necessary. You can walk right in and are usually be seen within a few minutes.
- Extended hours. Most are open 7 days a week for 8-12 hours a day.
- They’re Affordable
- Most accept major health insurance plans.
- Even if you aren’t insured, the prices are typically considerably less expensive than other medical clinics. And definitely cheaper than an ER.
- They Have Transparent Pricing
- Prices are listed right on their websites. No surprise bills here!
- They Use Electronic Medical Records
- If the clinic’s electronic medical record “talks” to your providers’ systems, they’ll forward over a digital summary of your visit.
- Even if your summary can’t be sent electronically, you’ll get a hard copy to bring home with you.
- They Provide Quality Care
- A research brief by the RAND Corporation reports that the care provided is “of equivalent quality to the care provided by physician offices and emergency departments.”
Cons of Retail Health Clinics
- They Have Limited Services
- If you need stitches, you can’t get them at a retail health clinic.
- If you have a sprain or broken bone, you’ll need to go to an ER or urgent care center equipped to deal with injuries.
- They Can Only Handle Straightforward Issues
- If you have chronic or complex conditions, it’s best to see a provider who knows you well and can manage any unforeseen problems.
Cons That Aren’t Really Cons
- Continuity of Care
- Some physician groups believe retail clinics disrupt existing patient-physician relationships. Studies don’t support this theory. They show that most people who use retail clinics don’t have a primary care provider anyway and would otherwise go to an ER for their care.
- Usually Not Staffed By Physicians
- Another ‘con’ argument some uninformed people make is that retail clinics are staffed with nurse practitioners and physician assistants instead of doctors. This implies that care may be subpar. Well, have no fear. Multiple studies, some appearing in prestigious journals such as the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) and Annals of Internal Medicine, have consistently shown that primary care provided by nurse practitioners and physician assistants is comparable to that of doctors.
Are Retail Health Clinics Right For You?
Retail health clinics aren’t a good choice for everyone. Especially older people, really young children (most won’t see kids under 18 months old) and those with chronic or complex conditions. But if you’re relatively healthy and have a minor issue, like a sore throat or you need a vaccine, then retail health clinics offer a convenient, affordable way to access basic medical care.
Remember-retail clinics aren’t meant to replace your regular medical providers. Their intention is to help you get through minor, episodic problems. And with average wait times to see a doctor in the U.S. at 24 days, the appeal of these convenient clinics is certainly understandable.
I hope this helps you decide if retail clinics are right for you or your loved ones.
Have a question for me? Or just want to share your experiences with the healthcare system? Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
I’d love to hear from you!
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