Healthcare, Insurance, Smart Spending

Retail Health Care: Health at a Healthy Discount

You have a miserable sore throat – might even be strep – without some health care you might die, just like Jim Henson, the Muppetteer who died a few years back from a strep throat too.

But, you do not have health insurance and do not have a doctor. The emergency room will cost you at least five hours in time and the cost – forget it!

What do you do?

You go to a retail health care provider. These are medical clinics that are found in chain drug stores such as CVS, grocery stores and big box retailers such as Target. Originally, they provided care for simple acute conditions that include bronchitis and strep throat. They may also have provided some preventative care such as vaccinations. A certified nurse practitioner usually provides care. They started at about the turn of the century and have had amazing growth in just over a decade. By 2010, a handful of retail clinics swelled in numbers to nearly 1,200.

From 2007 to 2009, the number of retail clinics quadrupled! While just a fraction of patients were treated in a retail clinic last year, more than six million patients received acute care, preventative care or ongoing monitor of a medical condition at a retail clinic.

Convenience and Cost: Hard to Beat

Why? The cost of a visit to a retail clinic is nearly half of the cost of a doctor’s visit and a fraction of the cost of an emergency room visit. You can just walk in – no appointment is needed. The care is excellent and patients with serious health issues are properly referred to a specialist. Most participate in insurance programs. Wait time is far less than if your doctor “squeezed” you in without an appointment. Did I mention the cost – cheaper than most other types of care for routine health problems. Convenience is a big factor – nearly half the visits to a retail clinic occur when the doctor’s office is closed. Retail clinics have extended hours in the evenings and on weekends.

Surprisingly, three entities own 73 percent of retail clinics. They are CVS, Target, and Walgreens. Hospitals or physician groups (Mayo Clinic and Cleveland Clinic for example) run Eleven percent of the remaining clinics.

If you live in a city chances are you will find a retail clinic near you. However, these health care providers are not located in poor medically underserved areas. They have little or no impact of expanding health care to these areas.

The American Medical Association has expressed concern that these retail clinics provide a sub-standard level of care and might interfere with the physician – patient relationship. Bullpucky! Study after study has found the care, though less expensive than at a physician’s office, urgent care center or emergency room, is of equal quality. The AMA simply does not want the competition.

Take Away

If you are sick and do not have a doctor or have no insurance consider a retail clinic. They provide high quality care and you do not need an appointment. They are also very convenient when your doctor is unavailable. Most retail clinics accept health insurance.