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EVERYDAY CHEAPSKATE

on March 12, 2013 10:50 AM

Over the past few years, I've read about retail health clinics being the wave of the future. It wasn't until my son Jeremy visited a MinuteClinic in a nearby CVS drugstore that I sat up and took notice.

He walked in without an appointment and was seen within 15 minutes. They accepted his insurance, diagnosed his problem, wrote a prescription and had him on his way a few minutes later. When he got a follow-up phone call at home days later to check on his condition, he was sold.

Located in mini-malls, discount stores and drugstores, this wave of small clinics is transforming the health care landscape. As we are paying more out of pocket for our medical care, we're approaching health care with more of a consumer's eye. We want competitive pricing, convenience and great customer service. That's what these clinics have to offer.

I was a bit skeptical about treating strep throat just two aisles over from hair care products, but now I'm changing my mind -- and fast.

Currently located in about 600 CVS stores, MinuteClinics' team of board-certified medical practitioners are trained to diagnose, treat and write prescriptions (when clinically appropriate) for a variety of common family illnesses to patients 18 months and older (24 months and older in Massachusetts). In-network with most major insurers, patients are responsible for either their co-pay or the price clearly listed on the treatments and services menu. For those who are uninsured or prefer to pay out-of-pocket, MinuteClinic accepts cash, checks and credit cards.

To find a MinuteClinic in your area, go to MinuteClinic.com, where you can also see the list of treatments available and the exact cost for each.

Wal-Mart initially joined the trend of in-store health clinics, but it closed 33 clinics in 2012 due in part to challenges from outsourcing services to local physicians and hospitals. Other retailers are joining the trend, with Walgreens operating more than 350 in-store clinics, 44 at Target stores and 80 at Kroger-owned stores.

Not everyone is sold on retail health clinics. The American Medical Association is pushing state and federal regulators to investigate potential conflicts of interest posed by joint ventures between store-based health clinics and pharmacy chains. AMA also wants stricter state regulations on retail clinics.

Supporters of retail clinics say they help take pressure off primary care physicians and emergency rooms by taking care of simpler cases. These retail health clinics are also limited to routine physicals and commonly treated illnesses and injuries.

In 2009, the Rand Corp. compared care and costs for treating three common illnesses in different settings. In that study, retail clinics cost at least 30 percent less than physicians' offices, urgent care centers and emergency departments, while the quality of care was at least as good.

The way I see it, this move toward retail health clinics empowers consumers by providing us with a new level of convenience and choice for routine and minor medical issues. That can't be a bad thing.


Mary Hunt is the founder of www.DebtProofLiving.com.

You can email her at mary@everydaycheapskate.com, or write to Everyday Cheapskate, P.O. Box 2099, Cypress, CA 90630. To find out more about Mary Hunt and read her past columns, please visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com.

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