NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


February 14, 2007

Walk-in health clinics are proliferating in pharmacies and discount stores, and are a good deal for many consumers -- from a financial and a medical standpoint, says the Wall Street Journal.

For people who aren't insured or have high-deductible policies, retail health clinics -- run by companies such as MinuteClinic or Take Care Health -- can offer significant savings by treating many minor ailments for significantly less than at many doctors' offices.

In fact, the clinics have a number of advantages, says the Journal:

  • One appeal of the clinics is that they post prices for services, such as treating bronchitis or giving a flu shot; such information is rarely seen in physicians' offices or hospital emergency rooms, and consumer advocates have been pressing for more price transparency.
  • For many consumers, though, convenience is the main appeal of the clinics, which are usually staffed by nurse practitioners and have one or two examination rooms; for example, on a stop in for a strep test, a customer was diagnosed, given a prescription for an antibiotic and had it filled at the pharmacy -- all in 20 minutes.

Some doctors and physicians' groups, however, disapprove of the retail clinics.  Last September, the American Academy of Pediatrics said it "opposes" the clinics because they lead to "fragmentation of care" and raise questions about the quality of care.  In particular, the group said children should have a "medical home" -- a doctor who sees them on a consistent basis.

Hal Rosenbluth, chairman of Take Care Health, agrees, but, he adds, "What happens on nights and weekends when it may be difficult to see a doctor?"

Anne Pohnert, director of operations for MinuteClinic in the Washington, D.C., area, says the clinics follow strict guidelines on what they will and won't treat.

Source: Laurie McGinley, "Sizing Up Clinics in Stores," Wall Street Journal, February 11, 2007.

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