Retail health clinics have sprung up all over the country with more than 1,150 of them now dotting the health care landscape. These clinics are usually found inside stores such as Walmart and provide a convenient way to be evaluated for medical conditions ranging from a urinary tract infection to a sore throat. At these in-store health clinics, patients can get basic health care services delivered at an inexpensive price. Walmart advertises that a visit to one of their clinics costs as little as forty dollars. But, are you getting what you pay for with these in store clinics? Is the care as good as what you’d get if you went to a free standing medical clinic or doctor’s office?
A recent study published in Annals of Internal Medicine looked at the quality of retail and in store health clinics. Using claims data, this study compared the quality of care received at retail health clinics with that received at doctor’s offices, emergency rooms, and urgent care centers. In terms of quality care scores, scores were similar comparing retail health clinics to doctor’s offices and urgent care centers; although scores were lower for medical care received from emergency rooms. The costs of being seen at a retail clinic was also significant lower compared to a doctor’s office, urgent care center, or emergency room – with the emergency room costs being more than fives times higher. Clearly, there are some cost benefits to using an in-store health clinic; and, at least according to this study, quality of care seems to be on par with physician offices and urgent care centers.
One advantage to going to an in-store health clinic is you don’t need to schedule and appointment, and, unlike the emergency room, you won’t get charged an exorbitant fee. Most retail health clinics accept major insurance plans. These clinics also work well for people who don’t have health insurance, Unfortunately, most retail health clinics are found in only five states: Texas, California, Florida, Illinois and Minnesota. Most people still don’t have access to one.
Although this study suggests that quality of care at in store health clinics is similar to that received at a doctor’s office, the doctors won’t know your history as well as the family doctor. Despite this, retail health clinics offer a viable alternative for getting quick treatment of common medical conditions when the family doc isn’t available or can’t fit you in.
Journal Watch. October 1, 2009. pages 154-55.