Should I Go to a Retail Clinic If I Need Urgent Care?
What Are Retail Clinics and What Services Do They Offer?
Retail clinics — also known as convenient care clinics (CCCs), or colloquially as “minute clinics” — are walk-in medical clinics located inside of retail establishments such as drug stores and supermarkets. Patients can compare CCCs with urgent care clinics — the latter are larger and offer more services, but the former are often sufficient for the most basic urgent care needs. The first retail clinics opened in 2000, and there are now more than 2,800 of them across the United States — 14 times as many as a decade ago! Patient visits to CCCs are estimated to be around 30 million per year, compared with between 70–160 million urgent care visits annually.
Services offered by retail clinics include:
- Prescriptions (except chronic pain medications)
- Sports physicals
- Strep tests
- Limited immunizations (such as flu shots)
- Treatments for minor illnesses, cuts, and burns
Retail clinics and urgent care clinics are typically similar in proximity and wait times, while prices are typically lower and services more limited. Retail clinics do not typically perform blood work or diagnostic imaging. Unlike urgent cares, retail clinics are often staffed exclusively by nurse practitioners and physician assistants, to keep costs low. Physician assistants are licensed and certified to practice medicine under physician supervision. Nurse practitioners study at a nursing school and follow a patient-centered model of care, while physician assistants study at a medical school and follow a disease-centered model of care. Both are similarly qualified, and earn significantly less on average than physicians.
How Much Does a Retail Clinic Visit Cost?
Retail clinic visits trend slightly to moderately less expensive than equivalent visits at urgent care clinics. For example, the minimum price for an urgent care office visit is typically around $100, but an adult physical exam only costs about $89 at CVS MinuteClinic, and only about $75 at Walgreens. Most basic office visits at retail clinics are comparable to these prices. Additional services such as vaccinations, TB tests, and prescriptions are charged separately. Prices do vary with geography, time, and the specific needs of the patient, so to get a more accurate quote you may want to compare prices at retail clinics near you.
Is a Retail Clinic Right for Me?
When retail clinics first entered the scene, the services they offered were almost exclusively paid for out-of-pocket, in cash. More recently, some retail clinics have also started to accept Medicare, Medicaid, and other insurance plans. If you don’t have insurance, retail clinics might be a great option for you; their reduced overhead costs allow for more affordable care, and they’re all but guaranteed to accept uninsured patients. However, if you do not want to pay out-of-pocket, you should be aware that some retail clinics do not accept insurance at all.
If you just need a quick and simple medical service or treatment, a convenient care clinic may be a good option for you. However, physicians warn against using CCCs for routine care in place of an established patient-doctor relationship. The decision ultimately comes down to a trade-off between economy and trust. To find a clinic you trust and compare prices on office visits, sign up for a Premium membership with SAMI-Aid today! SAMI-Aid Premium members can access our signature Provider & Price Search tool to compare prices on office visits with local doctors, urgent care clinics, and more. Premium members also get two free telemedicine visits per month with any combination of doctors, therapists, and psychiatrists. Join us today and experience better care and more health care independence!