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Are drop-in medical centers safe?

You’ve probably seen the drop-in medical centers in big-box stores like Target or Wal-Mart and in drugstore chains like CVS or Walgreens. There are about a thousand of these “convenient care clinics,” “mini clinics,” or “minute clinics.” As a rule, they handle only common ailments and are staffed by physician assistants and nurse practitioners (NPs), who can order tests and write prescriptions. The cost is relatively low, at about $50 to $75 a visit (or an insurance copay), and the wait is not long. No wonder the clinics are popular with the young and uninsured. Less than half of those who use the clinics have a primary care doctor, which means they serve a good purpose.

So is it okay to take your child there on Sunday night if you think he has strep throat? I would advise you to call your doctor first, but if you do go to a clinic, follow up with your pediatrician as soon as possible. If I couldn’t get to my pediatrician’s office, I’d feel relatively comfortable using one of these clinics for the following common problems:

  • Swimmer’s ear
  • Rashes, poison ivy, bug bites, hives, or severe sunburn
  • Pinkeye (conjunctivitis)
  • Strep throat symptoms (requiring a culture test for strep throat)
  • Splinter removals
  • Cuts or bruises that don’t require stitches

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) opposes the use of retail clinics for children and adolescents, though, because it feels pediatricians use even minor visits to address family issues and to check on immunizations, among other things. The AAP is also worried about continuity of care, which is a concern I share, too.

In sum, use them if you’re in a pinch, but let your doctor know so that he has a record of the illness and what was done about it.

From The Smart Parent's Guide: Getting Your Kids Through Checkups, Illnesses, and Accidents by Jennifer Trachtenberg.

The Smart Parent's Guide: Getting Your Kids Through Checkups, Illnesses, and Accidents

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The Smart Parent's Guide: Getting Your Kids Through Checkups, Illnesses, and Accidents

What to Do When You Don't Know What to Do! "Moms and dads need expert guidelines, especially when it comes to their kids' health. This book reveals the inside strategies I use myself-I'm a parent,...

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.