Walk-In Clinic Info You Need to Know from Consumer Reports

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Retail store clinics known as “walk-in clinics” offer convenience and availability for health care for patients on weekends when their doctor’s office is closed; during the late night when the ER is too full; and, during the workday when time is short and the condition is a little more than you can handle on your own at home. But how do walk-in clinics compare to “the real thing?”

That is what researchers asked in the August issue of Consumer Reports as they investigated what consumers need to know before handing over their health and their dollars to the growing minute-clinic industry popping up in retail stores such as Target, Walgreens and Walmart.

In the report, Consumer Reports addressed the quality of medical care question by referring to a RAND Corporation study that evaluated the care given for urinary tract infections, sore throats and ear aches by walk-in clinics, ERs, urgent care centers and a doctor’s office. What was found was that in comparison between all 4 health providers, the level of care was similar at walk-in clinics, urgent care and doctor’s offices, but lower at emergency rooms.

According to Consumer Reports’ chief medical advisor Marvin M. Lipman, M.D., “Retail-store clinics serve a purpose at present. They have leapt into the void by providing services for run-of-the-mill acute problems at times when patients can’t always get into see their primary care doctor and emergency rooms are overcrowded.”

Your Walk-in Options Guideline

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Seeing your primary care physician or taking your child to their pediatrician is always preferable. However, when getting into your PCP's office is days away and you want and/or need care right now, Consumer Reports offers the following walk-in options guide to help consumers decide which alternate health provider service is appropriate:

Retail (walk-in) Clinics—manned primarily with nurse practitioners who can prescribe medications, these are an appropriate choice for bothersome, but non-life threatening illnesses such as urinary tract infections, ear aches, sore throats, bronchitis and minor sprains. Average Cost: $110.

Urgent Care Center—owned typically by a hospital, group of doctors or independent investors, you can expect to find a family care or emergency physician present who will examine you aided sometimes by a physician’s assistant, a nurse and possibly a radiologist. According to Consumer Reports this type of health provider is appropriate for more urgent, but still non-life threatening injuries like a broken bone or a deep laceration. Average Cost: $156.

Emergency Room—a department within a hospital manned by a wide range of medical specialists in many disciplines who together treat life-threatening emergencies 24/7. This is where you must go if you find your health in a threatened "life or limb" situation such as severe trauma, chest pain, difficulty breathing, loss of consciousness, vomiting blood or having a severe allergic reaction. Average Cost: $570.

Regardless of which health provider service you use, be sure to ask that a report of your care is sent to your primary care physician’s office so that he or she may be kept informed about any changes in your health and the treatment you received.

Test your judgment of which health provider is an appropriate choice for a broken penis by reading about a study that reveals how and why a broken penis can occur.

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Reference: Consumer Reports August 2014 issue

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