Feeling under the weather, Andrew De Valk sought medical advice close to work.
So early last week, the Tempe Union High School District teacher found himself getting his throat, ears and chest examined at a Take Care Clinic inside an Ahwatukee Foothills Walgreens.
Use of retail health clinics increased 10-fold from 2007 to 2009, according to a study published last month in the American Journal of Medical Care.
The study asked 13.3 million insured people if they'd visited a retail health clinic - and 3.8 million had done so during that time frame. Many received health care from retail clinics more than once.
Since 2005, Take Care Clinics have been popping up all over Arizona, from Tucson to Surprise. There are 17 locations in the Valley alone. Take Care Clinics operate in more than 350 Walgreens pharmacies nationwide.
MinuteClinics are open in 25 states, including Arizona. CVS Caremark launched MinuteClinics as the first retail health care centers in the United States in 2000.
Consumers visit the centers for a number of reasons, including the one De Valk cited last week.
"It's a lot closer" than driving from work to his doctor near his home in Gilbert, De Valk said. "And there's no appointment" needed.
"We're becoming more and more popular," said Take Care Clinic market manager Linda Feges, a licensed nurse practitioner who oversees several locations in the Valley. "There's more of an understanding that it's not just the flu shot clinic, but if your child has an earache and it's Saturday, your child can come in."
Retail health clinics often treat basic ailments, from stomach aches to flu-like symptoms, and perform sports and camp physicals.
"We see a wide variety of people," Feges said. "We accept a lot of insurance and we're convenient, open in the evening and on weekends."
Feges said the clinics also see a number of people who don't have insurance who may not be able to afford a visit to an emergency room.
Before even driving to a Take Care Clinic, consumers can check prices online to get an idea of about how much they'll pay out-of-pocket if they're not insured.
The clinics are not a replacement for regular visits to a primary care physician, Feges said. And they do not manage chronic conditions.
"There's been so many changes in health care and will continue to be," she said. "We're positioning ourselves to fill in the gap. If a patient doesn't have a primary care physician, we can help them get into the health care system."
But if you think you've come down with strep and your doctor is booked on a Friday afternoon - or not available on a Sunday - the nurse practitioners at the clinics can see you.
Plus, many patients who visit retail clinics, according to the study, were able to reduce their medical bills. The study found that service at the clinics was 30 percent to 40 percent less expensive than a physician's visit and 80 percent less expensive than visiting an emergency room.
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