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How Is A Retail Clinic Different From Urgent Care?

Getting an appointment with a doctor is easier now than ever these days. But determining where to go for your needs can be tricky if you’re not well-versed in different types of care.

For instance, walk through a local Target, Walmart CVS, or other store nowadays, and you might spot a health clinic. But what exactly do these retail clinics offer? How are they different from stand-alone urgent care centers?

For non life-threatening illnesses or accidents, retail clinics or urgent care centers can both provide great treatment options. Here are the key differences between the two of them.

Retail clinics

You’ve likely seen these clinics in retail locations like Target, Walmart and CVS. They offer “lower-acuity visit types” for patients. In short, these facilities treat simple conditions that are easy to resolve; think sore throats or ear infections, or getting the flu shot or an updated vaccination.

These visits don’t require additional imaging or screening, like X-rays or scans, and can be taken care of by a nurse practitioner or physician assistant on-call.

About 2,000 retail clinics operate in the US, per the Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society. One survey found that vaccinations (30.9 percent) and care for minor illnesses or injuries (40 percent) were the most common services sought at retail clinics.

Urgent care centers

Urgent care centers are legally required to staff at least one board-certified physician, while retail health clinics are not.

Nearly 9,300 urgent or acute care clinics provide medical care for a wide range of acute conditions that aren’t quite emergencies. Typically, an urgent care center is considered a step above a retail clinic, and a stop between a primary care doctor and the emergency room.

These clinics handle all sorts of health issues, from splinting and casting for broken bones, to treating burns or wounds. New York’s Mount Sinai Hospital defines a qualifying condition as “an illness or injury that does not appear to be life-threatening but can’t wait until the next day.”

“There are things that you can be seen for in your local urgent care center in less time, and often at less cost, than you would if you had gone to the emergency department,” says Jami Kral, membership director at the Urgent Care Association. “Anything from your regular visits to vaccinations to getting sexually transmitted disease testing.”

When you need these services, check the website or call your local urgent care center ahead of time, if possible. “Just like you would expect in any other facility, the services vary by location,” Kral says.

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