The model of the typical doctor's office visit has changed drastically over the years. Walk-in medical clinics (also often called "retail clinics") began as a sort of experiment in healthcare in early 2000, and now number over 1,200 nationwide in retailers like Walgreens, CVS and Walmart. However, are the services offered at these convenience clinics always more affordable? We pick the top four services most likely to be offered at a lower price point via these care clinic models.



Sore Throat
A very common ailment with a number of legitimate causes, scratchy and painful throat symptoms are one of the most popular reasons for a stop at a retail clinic, and all the clinics looked at in a recent study offered sore throat diagnoses and treatment. Prices at a care clinic range from $79 – 90, although if further tests are needed (strep or influenza labs, for example), additional costs will be added. Compare this with the cost of $114 for an average physician's office visit, and the cost savings is noteworthy. If medication is prescribed for treatment (most often in the form of an antibiotic), patients have the convenience of getting their Rx at the same location they are being treated, as well. Generics for most antibiotics cost no more than $5 to $10.


Tuberculosis and Other Testing
This test may need to be administered for a variety of reasons, including employment screens and admission to some public school systems. The test itself requires two visits to the clinic: one to administer and a second to review the results. The average cost of a TB test at a retail clinic is $34; most doctors' offices will charge a similar amount for the actual test, but may also tack on a physician visit fee of $50 to $100, or more. (It is generally found that the majority of lab tests that can be performed at a retail clinic will be priced significantly lower due to the absence of the office visit fee imposed by most traditional physician's clinics.)

Sprains and Strains
Most injuries to a muscle can be easily treated at home with proper care and rest. If you feel better having a professional look at it, however, a retail clinic may be your best option. Note that these facilities are not equipped to do x-rays, and if there is even a hint that a bone is broken, you will be referred on to a facility that can do these services. To have a simple sprain or strain examined and wrapped, and to get the prescribed medicines (if necessary), will cost around $80 to $100, far less than the cost of a typical office visit, and much less than an emergency room exam.


Minor Skin Ailments
Whether it's a wart, ringworm or chicken pox, having a physician take a peek shouldn't cost a fortune. Most retail clinics can provide a concrete diagnosis and the appropriate prescription cream needed to take care of the problem promptly. By saving on the cost of a $115+ office visit (and a lengthy wait time), patients of a retail clinic can likely be seen and treated the same day for around $80.

The Bottom Line
Are there situations where seeing a physician is actually more affordable than visiting a retail clinic? Any test that can be done by a nurse without an appointment (pregnancy testing, for example) can be comparable in pricing to a care clinic. It is also important to note that many physicians' offices run specials during the year to meet the needs of the community; sports physicals, for example, may be the same price at your doctor's office as your retail clinic during a particular week leading up to the new school year. As with any other consumer purchase, it is wise to do a price comparison for non-life-threatening procedures or exams.


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