Convenience is important these days. Work, family, friends, hobbies—everything takes time, and we don’t seem to have enough of it. Naturally, we want to address our medical needs in a timely and direct fashion, so as not to take too much time out from our daily routine.
Urgent care clinics were designed to meet this need by offering quality care by seasoned doctors and nurses, without the need for appointments or extensive wait times. They are used by thousands of Americans on a daily basis.
Today, yet another new breed of clinic has popped up on the radar. It’s variably referred to as a convenient care clinic, a retail clinic, or a walk-in clinic. The terminology can get confusing—but generally speaking, these are clinics that operate within retail or grocery stores. They offer fast, convenient access to medical care, especially since you need to visit such stores anyway. No appointment is necessary, and the cost of care is advertised as being exceptionally low.
So how does this new breed of clinic really stack up to an urgent care clinic? Which one should you visit for which kind of situation? First of all, both clinics are strictly for non-life threatening injuries and illnesses. Anyone with a life-threatening condition should be taken to the ER immediately.
That said, let’s break our comparison down into four main areas.
This is one of the main differences between urgent care and convenient care. Urgent care clinics are dedicated medical facilities staffed by at least one fully-qualified doctor. You may receive treatment from a nurse (RN or NP) or Physician’s Assistant (PA) when you visit urgent care, but these medical professionals will be directly supervised by a fully qualified physician (MD).
Convenient care clinics are staffed exclusively by non-physicians—in other words, nurses and PAs. This is certainly not a bad thing, as all of these medical professionals are highly trained. At convenient care clinics, however, they are only remotely (not directly) supervised by a physician. You won’t find a physician on site at a convenience care clinic, and for some people, this raises issues around correct diagnosis and quality of care for certain medical issues.
The setting of a clinic may be more important to some people than others. Since convenient care clinics are located in retail and grocery stores, the atmosphere may feel less private and/or professional. These concerns are uncommon at standalone medical facilities such as urgent care clinics.
In terms of convenience, it all depends on the location of clinic in relation to your daily activities. Retail and grocery stores tend to be placed on the most convenient locations already, so clinics operating inside of them will naturally be conveniently located. Urgent care clinics are generally placed in convenient locations too, whether you live in a city, suburb or town.
The cost of visiting either type of clinic will depend on two main factors: 1) whether you have insurance and 2) what kind of medical attention you (or your loved ones) need. Urgent care clinics usually participate in multiple coverage networks, and it pays to know which clinics in your area are considered “in network” for your plan. Many convenient care clinics also accept insurance, and you’ll generally be charged the same copay as you would at urgent care or your primary doctor’s office.
If you are uninsured, convenient care clinics become more appealing—at least for very minor conditions. Treatment varies by condition, but most visits to convenient care end up between $60 and $100 out-of-pocket.
When you think convenient care clinic, think minor infections, cold and flu, allergies, minor cuts and bites, and common conditions like shingles and impetigo. Urgent care can of course handle any of these issues, plus a whole lot more (sprains, fractures, lacerations, more serious infections, etc.). In terms of capabilities, convenience care clinics have the most limited capabilities of all medical facilities.
There is certainly a place for convenient care clinics—otherwise there wouldn’t be so many of them popping up. But it pays to be aware of the limitations of these ultra-convenient clinics, and to know when urgent care is the correct choice for you and your family. If you’re covered by insurance, it’s almost always better to visit urgent care and be guaranteed higher quality care in a dedicated medical setting. If it’s a very minor issue and you happen to be near a convenient care clinic, it’s definitely possible to receive effective treatment there.
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