Last updated: Jan 04, 2010
healthcare
Those in-store clinics that are springing up all across town may be just fine for your minor health stuff. Heres what you need to know about those clinics and when to see your regular doctor.


In-store health clinics are everywhere these days: Target, Walmart, Walgreens, CVS, and other retailers now operate about 1,000 clinics nationwide. If youre not feeling so terrific, its convenient to simply pop in when youre doing your other errands.

But these clinics, while handy, arent for everyone or every kind of problem. Most are staffed by nurse practitioners and are limited in the services they offer. Here, a quick primer on when—and when not—to drop in.

When to try an in-store clinic
Best for: Minor injuries like splinters, common illnesses like strep or earaches, and preventive care like flu shots

Pros: You dont need an appointment, and the clinics are open seven days a week and until 7:30 p.m. or later on weekdays. So if you have flu-like symptoms on Friday afternoon, you can stop in and get a prescrip­tion without waiting until Monday. Many clinics will accept your usual office-visit insurance co-pay, but even the full fare is pretty cheap.

Need to know: Unless its a real emergency, experts say the clinics are probably the best option for uninsured people because of the price. Target, CVS, and Walgreens list prices on their Web sites; its about $60 for most illnesses. An ER visit may cost a lot more ($1,000-plus if you dont have insurance).

When to see your doc
Best for: Chronic illnesses like heart disease, serious issues like chest pain or peculiar moles, gyno exams, and broken bones

Pros: For full in-depth care from someone who has a relationship with you, you cant beat your doctor.

Need to know: Nurse practitioners who staff in-store clinics are registered nurses with additional training—at the masters or doctorate level—that gives them the authority to diagnose minor illnesses and injuries, interpret lab results, and write prescriptions.

But they arent the best at managing chronic illnesses, and the clinics dont have X-ray equipment for diagnosing broken bones. Plus, your doc knows your history, which could come in handy in determining which meds are best for you, experts say. Also, if you have a lot of questions, its best to consult with an MD who is capable of discussing your broader concerns.