NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


October 20, 2005

Long waits, inconvenient locations and high-costs are just a few of the obstacles patients with minor symptoms or ailments often encounter. Now, nurse practitioners have begun setting up in locations more convenient for patients, typically at busy retail stores like Target or CVS Pharmacy.

MinuteClinic in Minneapolis is the biggest operator of these clinics, with 22 locations. Other similar clinics include FastCare, Quick Care and MEDspot. The Heartland Institute's Sean Parnell believes these retail clinics have several advantages:

  • Nurse practitioners have a four-year bachelor's degree in nursing as well as a two-year master's degree; in most states, a nurse practitioner is allowed to prescribe medication and perform basic health care functions without direct supervision by a doctor.
  • The average cost for a visit is roughly $38 at a FastCare clinic and $44 at a MinuteClinic compared to about $85 for a typical visit to a doctor's office.
  • Many in the industry say their biggest advantage is the minimal waiting time; there are no appointments and the typical visit takes about 15 minutes.

Some doctors have expressed concern nurse practitioners will miss the signs of more serious illnesses that require attention from a physician or even a hospital. Dr. James Woodburn, chief medical officer for MinuteClinic, says individuals who exhibit signs of a chronic condition are referred to their doctor or if critical, to the nearest emergency room.

Linda Hall Whitman of MinuteClinic says the clinics have a 99.9 percent patient satisfaction rate over four years of operation and after treating more than 220,000 people. The firm has never been sued for malpractice, notes Whitman, which seems to indicate its clinics are focused on ailments within their scope of care and that they are referring patients to doctors when more extensive diagnosis and treatment may be warranted.

Source: Sean Parnell, "Nurse Practitioners Offer Effective, Low-Cost Care," Heartland Institute, Health Care News, Vol. 6, No. 9, October 2005.


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