Walk-In Medical Clinics Take Retailers by Storm

Oct. 19, 2006 — -- Walk-in medical clinics are popping up in pharmacies and retail stores around the country as an alternative to doctors' offices.

Donald Brady's regular doctor is in Florida. But when he was feeling sick in Pittsburgh, he went to a small clinic in the back of an Eckerd's drugstore.

"I had the choice of sitting in an emergency room forever -- which you should not be doing anyway -- or finding a doctor here," Brady said.

Nicole Curenton, 25, has no insurance. She went to a walk-in clinic to get treated for a painful ear infection.

"When I came into the clinic, I was in pain. I was crying," Curenton said. "I wouldn't have gotten treated at all if it wasn't for this clinic."

Not a Replacement for Primary Care but Very Convenient

Walk-in clinics are incredibly convenient. Patients can see a nurse practitioner and get a prescription. About 20 feet away, patients can fill that prescription at the pharmacy.

"Right now, there are about 150 of what we call retail health clinics in the U.S. We think in the next five years they will be up to 5,000," Peter Miller, CEO of Take Care Health Systems, told "Good Morning America."

Miller said that his company and others were tapping into a huge demand for affordable, easy-to-access health care. Retail clinics are operating in 19 states in stores like Wal-Mart, Walgreens, CVS and Kroger supermarkets.

"This model is not a replacement for primary-care physicians," Miller said. "We view ourselves as a beginning, not an end."

Most walk-in retail clinics are open seven days a week, often late into the night. Some insurance plans cover the visits, but anyone can pay out of pocket.

A visit for a respiratory illness will cost patients between $59 and $74; a flu shot, $25; and a physical, $45.

"I do worry that there might be a little bit of inappropriate pressure on the nurse practitioners to treat things with medications or to recommend things that the drugstore is selling," said Sherry Glied, chair of the Department of Health Policy and Management at Columbia University's Mailman School of Public Health.

But Glied says as long as they're closely monitored, the clinics seem to be filling a real void.

Brady was in and out in less than an hour with his antibiotics in hand.

"I think the whole thing makes sense. It's one-stop shopping, you might say, and for minor things such as this is, I think this does the trick," he said.

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