In the land of mini-malls, you can now shop for health care the way you buy hamburgers and milkshakes: By standing in line under a menu. According to the Associated Press, store-based health clinics aren’t just a healthcare fad anymore. They’re becoming an industry standard. They’re off-to-the-side sections inside grocery stores and drugs stores, like deli counters or pharmacies. They’re mostly manned by nurse practitioners, and offer quick services for routine conditions from colds to sunburn to bladder infections. They have waits times of as little as 15 minutes, as well as evening and weekend hours. They’re being heralded as cheaper and quicker alternatives to a doctor's appointment or an emergency room visit. For example, at an in-store clinic, a physical costs about $60, a flu shot is about $20, and a strep throat test has a price tag of $15. Also, about half of them accept insurance from providers like Humana, UnitedHealth, and Aetna.
According to recent estimates, about 7% of North Americans have tried a clinic at least once. That number’s expected to increase dramatically as major pharmacy operators like Wal-Mart, CVS, Target, and Walgreens partner up with mini-clinic providers to expand operations. Critics complain that these operations are largely unregulated and are prone to conflicts of interest – in other words, the pharmacy stands to profit from any medicines the in-house nurse practitioners prescribe. Some physicians are also concerned that in-and-out clinics could result in serious underlying health conditions going undetected.
The executive director of the Convenient Care Association says that store-based health clinics are held to the same high standards as doctors' offices. Store clinics are either monitored by a State Board of Nursing or Board of Medicine, and sometimes by both. Of course it’ll probably take a while for ‘fast medicine’ clinics to gain consumer confidence, but don’t be surprised when you can buy an ice cream, some hair dye, and get a flu shot all in the same spot.