Retail Health Clinics: Alternative to the Medical Office and Urgent Care

You’ve come down with what you believe is a bad cold. Or your child has it.

You know the illness isn’t bad enough to warrant the ER. But it’s bad enough not to wait out with standard bedrest, hot tea, and binging through Netflix.

Do you contact your primary care physician (PCP)? Or make the trek to that Urgent Care Clinic (UCC) a mile away?

Then there’s that retail health clinic you spotted during your last trip to the supermarket just down the street. All you remember were people – obviously sick, probably with a cold – going in and out of there within minutes. Practically a revolving door compared to the sometimes hour-long waits at your PCP. Same with the wait in Urgent Care.

Yet you hesitate. What exactly is a retail clinic? Is it a legitimate part of healthcare? Or some fly-by-night operation? And even if it is legit, is it right for you?

Retail Health Clinics are a Part of Modern Healthcare

A retail health clinic is a type of walk-in medical clinic. You may hear other terms for them:

“convenient care clinics,” “nurse-in-a-box,” and “retail-based clinics (RBC).” Their name, unsurprisingly, comes from the fact most are based within retail stores and mall complexes. Many can also be found in pharmacies and supermarkets.

Four well-known retail health clinics in the US include:

  • Little Clinics by Kroger
  • MinuteClinic by CVS
  • RediClinics by Rite Aid
  • Target Clinics by Kaiser Permanente

Convenient locations and Hours of Operation

Patients who’d have turned to their PCP, UCC, or the ER for medical care are increasingly walking into the doors of the retail health clinics.

The big reason is convenience. Many are located within shopping complexes. These are usually within minutes of most people’s residences.

Convenience also extends to hours of operation. Retail health clinics may be open twelve hours a day during the work week and eight hours a day on the weekend. This is longer than most doctors’ offices and urgent cares. Some retail clinics are even open during the holidays.  

Retail health clinics also don’t require appointments and happily accept walk-ins.

Limited Services and Staff

Patients looking to treat their illnesses at a retail health clinic should be aware of its biggest limitation: services.

They are permitted to treat minor illnesses and injuries. While this varies slightly between clinic to clinic, they usually include treatments for:

  • Allergies
  • Bronchitis
  • Cold and Flu
  • Diarrhea and intestinal infections
  • Ear infections
  • Head lice
  • Headaches
  • Minor injuries, burns, and rashes
  • Pinkeye
  • Ringworm
  • Sinus Infections
  • Sore throat
  • Sprains and strains
  • Urinary tract infections
  • Warts

Some of the clinics offer some forms of preventive care (e.g., vaccinations.) Others may do health screenings. In fact, many became centers for the local population for COVID-19 testing during the pandemic. People in rural and more remote areas may be able to use their clinics’ telehealth equipment for making televisits.

The limited services means most patient care is done by advanced practice clinicians: nurse practitioners (NP) or physician assistants (PA). Registered nurses (RN) assist them as they treat incoming patients. All their work is reviewed and signed off by a physician who most likely is working remotely on their medical computer.

Paying your bill

Last consideration for a potential user of a retail health clinic is paying their medical bill. Typically, patients pay less for the same services done at a PCP, UCC, or ER.

Also typical is pricing for service. A price sheet is presented at the clinic or online. Patients know exactly what they’re getting and paying for. This is in sharp contrast to payment via medical insurance, where payment can vary. Uninsured patients will especially find this fact useful.

That doesn’t mean retail clinics don’t accept insurance. In fact, they accept most forms including Medicare and Medicaid.

So is the retail health clinic right for you? If your issue is relatively minor but simply can’t wait for your primary doctor, it may be. Same if it doesn’t need the services of an urgent care, which are more focused on time-sensitive – but still non-emergency – medical problems like a broken bone. Convenience and transparent billing are big advantages of retail health clinics. This may be offset by the limited number of services covered.

Which one is a priority for you?

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