Whether you've sprained an ankle on vacation or just don't want to wait three weeks for a doctor's appointment, you now have more health care options than ever. A variety of clinics, offering a wide range of services from stitches to wellness exams, are popping up in neighborhoods near you.
Many are stationed in drugstores and supermarkets, while freestanding chains such as NextCare, FastMed, and CityMD -- often referred to as urgent care clinics -- are designed to deal with more serious health issues requiring X-rays and other equipment.
One in four Americans has visited a rapid health clinic, and by the end of 2015, estimates show they will account for as much as 10 percent of nonprimary care visits. "It's the convenience revolution in health care," says Ateev Mehrotra, M.D., an associate professor at Harvard Medical School who studies the issue for the nonprofit Rand Corp. "We demand 24-7 instant access for banking, movies, grocery shopping," he says. "Why not health?" With a national shortage of 16,000 primary care physicians, many experts say these types of centers fill an important gap. So, where should you head next time you're not feeling well? We've reviewed what's on tap at these outlets to help you decide.
You'll find these in drugstores, supermarkets, and other retail outlets. They're a great option when you can't see your regular doctor, but services are often limited. Many of these walk-in clinics don't have a full-time physician,
and are run by either RNs, nurse practitioners, and/or physician assistants. Their care can be restricted to standard procedures and treatments, including immunizations and testing for strep throat. A growing number of clinics are also equipped to help manage
the basics of chronic conditions including diabetes, hypertension, and high cholesterol by taking readings and dispensing meds. Responding to demand, some retail clinics are offering preventive health services, such as wellness exams and routine physicals.
Found: In drugstores, grocery stores, and pharmacies.
Staffed By: Mostly RNs, physician assistants, and nurse practitioners, but in some cases a doctor is available during certain time frames.
Good For: Treatment of cold/flu symptoms and minor skin conditions (rashes, bug bites, poison ivy, ringworm, etc.); immunizations; pregnancy testing; treatment of non-life-threatening conditions such as urinary tract infections and conjunctivitis; screening for diabetes, high blood pressure, and cholesterol.
Be Aware: Read reviews on zocdoc.com (a website that vets doctors and clinics by geographic area) to make sure your outlet is legit. There are some documented cases of pill mills being marketed as health clinics.
Know your health history and insurnace info before you go. At stand-alone clinics, the staff won't be able to access your complete medical history. It's up to you to bring relevant information (like the medications you're taking) and keep records of what happens during your visit.