NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


January 6, 2006

Tired of having to plan a trip to the doctor, scheduling an appointment weeks in advance and then having to wait until they can see you? Nurse practitioners might have a cure: they are setting up shop in locations that offer a convenient low-cost alternative to the doctor's office, says the Heartland Institute's Sean Parnell.

These clinics are staffed by trained nurse practitioners who are allowed to prescribe medication and can perform basic health care functions -- like the treatment of ear and eye infections, strep throat, allergies, bladder infections and the flu -- without direct supervision by a doctor. They also charge far less than a typical doctor's office, says Parnell:

  • The average cost for a visit is roughly $38 at a FastCare clinic.
  • An ear infection treated at a MinuteClinic -- the biggest operator of these clinics -- would be $44, while a visit to a doctor's office would typically cost about $85.
  • Their biggest advantage, though, is their minimal waiting times -- the typical visit takes about 15 minutes.

But the arrival of nurse practitioner-run clinics has drawn mixed reactions from the medical community, says Parnell:

  • Some doctors are concerned that nurse practitioners will miss signs of more serious illnesses that require attention from a physician or even a hospital.
  • Others worry that nurse practitioners simply don't have the extensive medical training needed to identify and treat patients who may appear to have a simple condition but who, in fact, need a doctor.
  • However, these clinics are staffed by nurse practitioners with four-year bachelor's degrees in nursing as well as two-year master's degrees.

Moreover, some doctors are comfortable with the role these clinics play since they fill a need for people who know what is wrong with them, says Parnell.

Source: Sean Parnell, "Nurse Practitioners Offer Effective, Low-Cost Care," Health Care News: Heartland Institute, October 2005.


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