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When to Visit a Retail Health Clinic

Pop quiz: It's Friday night and you're sure you caught your kid's pinkeye -- again. Should you (a) go to the ER, (b) try to get a Monday appointment, or (c) head to the mall to visit a retail health clinic? Consider giving option (c) a shot, says Mary Kate Scott, author of Healthcare in the Express Lane. Below, she explains when (and why) retail clinics could be your right answer:

If you have... a minor ailment like a sore throat or ear infection, or you need a vaccination. Retail clinics are staffed by nurse-practitioners (NPs), who are trained to provide many of the same routine medical services as physicians. A problem like pinkeye is well within their expertise.

If you prefer... walk-in appointments. Most clinics are open seven days a week, with evening hours and guaranteed appointment times.

If you're seeking... a referral to a specialist, or need a basic prescription. NPs are qualified to diagnose illnesses and prescribe medication. If you need ongoing care or specialized treatment, they'll refer you to a local doctor.

If you want... to save money. Retail clinics accept most insurance co-pays, and patients without insurance usually pay only $40 to $60 per visit. Plus, the price of each service is posted up front, meaning no surprise costs at the end. To find a clinic near you, head to Healthcare311.com.

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