As an increasing number of big box stores and pharmacy chains open up in-store retail clinics, consumers have more options than ever for receiving medical treatment outside of normal doctor office hours. These retail clinics, such as the RediClinic in many Wal-Marts or the Minute Clinic at CVS, offer incredible convenience to people who become sick at night or on the weekend.
In the past, if a child developed an ear infection or started running a high fever on a Friday night, parents had very limited choices. For the most part, they could either take their child to the local emergency room where they might wait for hours to be seen or they had to watch their child suffer through the weekend until the pediatrician’s office reopened on Monday. Even if they did decide to wait until Monday, they often couldn’t get an appointment right away or they’d be forced to sit in the waiting room for an hour before their child could be seen.
Now, as retail clinics become more common, sick consumers can simply stop by their local superstore or pharmacy to receive medical treatment. These clinics are open during the day, in the evening and on weekends, and most of them take insurance. At most of these retail clinics, you can be seen by a nurse practitioner within 15 or 20 minutes. If you receive a prescription, you can fill it right there at the store’s pharmacy.
For years, thousands of free-standing primary care clinics have operated out of malls and other highly populated areas throughout the country. These more elaborate clinics are often staffed by physicians and offer a broad range of services. Unfortunately, patients often pay a hefty price tag for the convenience of these primary care clinics. However, the newer retail clinics, typically staffed by nurse practitioners, offer fewer services at a much lower price. A retail clinic visit typically costs between $40 and $60—much less than an emergency room visit and even cheaper than some doctor’s office visits.
As these retail clinics continue to meet incredible success, the industry is expanding at a rapid pace. There are currently almost 1,000 retail clinics throughout the nation, according to a Verispan survey released in January 2008. These clinics operate in 36 states throughout the U.S. According to the Verispan survey, CVS Pharmacy’s Minute Clinics are the fastest growing pharmacy retail clinics with more than 390 locations. The second largest retail clinic chain is Take Care Clinics, located in 136 Walgreens stores throughout the nation. Wal-Mart currently has 57 in-store clinics throughout 12 states. However, the popular big box store has plans to expand to a whopping 2,000 clinics by 2014. Wal-Mart’s clinics are run by outside medical firms, such as for-profit companies like RediClinic, regional health plans and local hospitals.
Retail clinic prices vary depending on the services provided to the patient. A typical flu shot costs $15 to $30, treatment for poison ivy and pink eye is priced at around $50, and cholesterol, diabetes and pregnancy tests are generally less than $50. However, as the industry continues to mushroom, these prices are dropping. Surprisingly, retail clinics aren’t just competing with other retail clinics—they’re also creating some tough competition for regular doctor’s offices and hospitals. Some internists and family doctors are starting to worry about losing business to these store clinics, and they’re also concerned about the level of care patients are receiving at these centers. To keep up with these popular retail clinics, many doctors are expanding their office hours and some are even offering Saturday appointments—a change that greatly benefits their patients.
Although the retail clinic industry is still relatively new, there’s no doubt that this innovative business model is having a significant impact on the health care industry. First and foremost, these in-store clinics offer affordable convenience to patients who need medical care after regular hours. However, these clinics are also having a desirable side effect on the medical industry—they are forcing family physicians to take a closer look at their business, improve their services and increase their accessibility.