During the past few years, I’ve read about retail health clinics being the wave of the future. It wasn’t until my son Jeremy visited a new MinuteClinic in a nearby CVS drugstore that I sat up and took notice. He walked in without an appointment and was seen within 15 minutes. They accepted his insurance, diagnosed his problem, wrote a prescription, and had him on his way a few minutes later. When he got a follow-up phone call at home days later to check on his condition, he was sold.
Located in mini-malls and discount stores, this new wave of small clinics is transforming the health-care landscape. As we are paying more out of pocket for our medical care, we’re approaching health care with more of a consumer’s eye. We want to compare prices; we want convenience; and we want great customer service. That’s what these clinics have to offer. I was a bit skeptical about treating strep throat just two aisles over from the hair-care products or taking the kids to the drugstore for their camp physicals. Now I’m changing my mind — and fast.
Currently located in 26 states and expanding like crazy, MinuteClinics’ board-certified medical practitioners are trained to diagnose, treat and write prescriptions (when clinically appropriate) for a variety of common family illnesses to patients 18 months and older (2 years and older in Massachusetts). MinuteClinics work with most major insurers, and patients are responsible for either their copay or the price clearly listed on the treatments and services menu. For those who are uninsured or prefer to pay out of pocket, MinuteClinic accepts cash, checks and credit cards. To find one in your area, go to www.minuteclinic.com, where you also can see the list of treatments available and the exact cost for each.
Wal-Mart began opening retail health clinics at select stores in 2007. The clinics, which lease space in Wal-Mart stores, are managed by local or regional hospitals or other organizations independent of Wal-Mart. The providers operating the clinics determine which services to offer, which generally include preventive and routine care for conditions such as allergies and sinus infections — as well as basic services, such as cholesterol screenings and school physicals — at affordable prices. They are staffed by either certified nurse practitioners or physicians.
Not everyone is sold on retail health clinics. The American Medical Association is pushing state and federal regulators to investigate potential conflicts of interest posed by joint ventures between store-based health clinics and pharmacy chains. The AMA also wants stricter state regulations on retail clinics. Supporters of retail clinics say that they help take pressure off primary-care physicians and emergency rooms by taking care of simpler cases and that these retail health clinics are limited to routine physicals and commonly treated illnesses and injuries.
The way I see it, this new move toward retail health clinics empowers consumers by providing us with a new level of convenience and choice for routine and minor medical issues. That can’t be a bad thing.