What Older Adults Need to Know about Retail Clinics
Tools and Tips
Retail clinics are medical clinics based in pharmacies, supermarkets, or “big-box” stores. They have come a long way since they first opened in the U.S. in 2000. Today, there are more than 1,400 retail clinics nationwide. And a growing number of older adults are visiting them. Between 2006 and 2009, the number of older people using these clinics more than doubled from 7.5 percent to 15 percent.
Your Primary Care Provider Knows You Best
These clinics can’t—and shouldn’t—take the place of your primary care provider or any specialists you may be seeing. Older adults tend to have more health problems, and more complex healthcare needs, than younger adults. Retail clinics can be a good resource for minor health problems. But, they should not take the place of your primary care provider.
Who staffs these clinics? What can they do?
Nurse practitioners or physician assistants usually provide care in retail clinics. They diagnose and treat uncomplicated health problems, and give standard vaccinations. The most common problems these clinics treat include:
Many retail clinics are open seven days a week, and keep their doors open later than traditional medical offices.
How do you pay?
Most retail clinics accept private health insurance, Medicare, and Medicaid. They tend to charge less than traditional healthcare providers.
How good is the care at these retail clinics?
Recent studies suggest that these clinics provide good care, similar to the care that healthcare providers offer in traditional office settings. In fact, some retail clinics are approved by leading medical accrediting organizations, and have adopted policies to ensure quality care.
Here is some advice if you are considering a visit to a retail clinic:
Use retail clinics only for minor problems. Here is a situation as an example: It’s 8 PM and your primary care provider’s office is closed. You have what seems to be an uncomplicated health problem-say, an earache that developed after you went for a swim. Going to a retail clinic for this problem would be reasonable. But you shouldn’t rely on retail clinics on a regular basis for ongoing problems.
Rely on your primary care provider. Having a primary care provider who sees you regularly and is familiar with the health problems you’ve had and currently have is very important. He or she knows how you’ve responded to treatments for these problems.
All older adults should have a geriatrician or primary care provider who they know and trust for the majority of their healthcare.
Follow these “do’s” whenever you use a retail clinic for minor problems:
DO bring a complete list of the medications you’re taking—prescription and over-the-counter drugs and supplements. You should also write down at what doses, and for what reasons you are taking each medication. Ask the clinic staff to check the list to make sure these drugs won’t interact with any new medications they may prescribe.
DO give clinic staff your primary care provider’s name and phone number so they can contact him or her.
DO let the clinic staff know if you have had any allergic reactions to any medications you’ve taken, or have had any other problems with medications.
DO get a report from the clinic (before you leave) that includes your diagnosis and follow-up instructions.
DO share that report with your geriatrician or primary care provider as soon as possible.
Call your primary healthcare provider or 911 right away IF:
- You have a new, major symptom. For example, chest pain, shortness of breath, or swelling in your legs. These symptoms require immediate attention from your primary care provider, or Emergency Room staff.
- You notice a change in a medical problem that you have had for a long time and your primary care provider or geriatrician has been treating. In these cases, call him or her.
- You have a cough that has lasted for three or more weeks. This may require special medical attention that retail clinics cannot handle.
Last updated April 2013