Retail Clinics versus Doctor Offices

The day dawned bright, but there was trouble afoot in my suburban jungle, or more specifically, my bedroom. My eight-year-old had crawled under the covers next to me sometime during the night, and was complaining of a sore throat. I knew it had to be semi-serious because she’d remained quiet and still for more than 15 minutes, which if you know my daughter, is a sure harbinger of doom.

retail health clinic 300x199 Retail Clinics versus Doctor Offices Photo

Depending on the situation, a retail clinic could be more convenient than seeing your doctor.

And sit still she did, even as I pumped her full of homeopathic remedies and water by the ton. For some reason, I thought she had sudden allergy onset or a Santa Ana-induced scratchy throat, but as the day wore on and she remained prone on the couch, I knew we had a problem.

I called her doctor. Sympathetic as he was, he simply couldn’t take any more patients that day. I’d have to wait until he had an opening. Even then, I imagined myself in the “sick waiting room” for hours as my daughter and I sat among the other sickies coughing and hacking their germs in our general direction.

So, I showed up without an appointment to my drugstore’s medical clinic. One person waited ahead of us, but soon – surprisingly soon –  we were ushered into the examination room. The nurse practitioner spent several minutes taking my daughter’s health history and symptoms and entering them into a computer. She performed all the usual tests, and soon proclaimed that my daughter had strep throat. She passed the prescription on to the pharmacy 100 feet from the office, and we were on our way with a diagnosis and the proper medicine.

All in 30 minutes. I was impressed.

So impressed I briefly considered giving up our doctors altogether and going to my corner drugstore for all my family’s medical needs.

But would that be wise?

I outlined the pros and cons:

Pros of Retail Clinic Care

  • Quicker access and shorter wait times for routine care
  • Fast treatment for minor health problems, like strep throat and ear infections
  • Easy way to get health checks like blood pressure
  • Convenient access to the pharmacy located on site

Cons of Retail Clinic Care

  • We’d sacrifice our ongoing relationships with our doctors
  • The scope of care would be limited
  • We might not – and probably wouldn’t – see the same practitioner twice
  • We wouldn’t have someone who knows our ongoing heath history and oversees our overall care

I did a little more research. According to Merchant Medicine, an entity that provides walk-in medicine research and consulting, 1,401 retail clinics operate in 39 states. Furthermore, as stated by global research organization, RAND Corporation, in findings published by the Journal of General Internal Medicine, “people who visit retail medical clinics are less likely to return to a primary care physician for future illnesses and have less continuity of care. However, there is no evidence retail medical clinics disrupted preventive medical care or management of diabetes, two important measures of quality of primary care.”

So I had my answer, sort of.

When I suspect my kids or I are suffering from minor issues, like urinary tract, ear, and upper respiratory infections, and I can’t easily get a doctor’s appointment, I plan to visit a retail clinic. As for vaccinations and wellness care, we will visit our doctor so he continues to have a complete picture of our health. Same with chronic conditions that require a doctor’s care (my research revealed that most retail clinics are staffed by nurse practitioners).

Either way, I’ll be sure our doctors receive records of retail clinic care, which is quite simple as most clinics fax or email the doctor’s office a copy of care and treatment.

What do you think? Are retail clinics a more convenient option than doctor’s office?

Debbie Anderson is a 44-year-old freelance writer and editor who blogs at her slice-of-life site,

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