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Retail Clinics for Kids: No Sub for Pediatricians

By Rita Rubin
WebMD Health News

Feb. 25, 2014 -- Like many busy parents, Ellen Hoffman likes the convenience of the MinuteClinic, a handful of which can be found in CVS pharmacies within a few miles of her home in Bethesda, MD.

Her two daughters, 14 and 12, often get ear infections or colds that are going around. “I used to take them [to MinuteClinic] all the time because my pediatrician’s office was a pain in the neck,” Hoffman says. “I could never get in there.”

Eventually, though, her local MinuteClinics became so popular that their wait times were as long as those at the pediatrician’s office. Still, Hoffman says, she takes her girls to MinuteClinics in Florida when they come down with something while visiting their grandparents.

“It’s better than not having that resource, but it doesn’t replace having your own doctor,” Hoffman says.

That’s the message the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) is trying to get through to parents in a new update of its 2006 policy statement about retail-based clinics in pharmacies, supermarkets, and “big box” stores.  The group continues to oppose the retail clinics, calling them “an inappropriate source of primary care for pediatric patients.”

Compared to 2006, “there’s a lot more of them, and our patients are using them,” says Geoffrey Simon, MD, a pediatrician in Wilmington, DE. He chairs the AAP’s Committee on Practice and Ambulatory Medicine, which issued the updated statement. 

While most retail clinic patients are adults, polls cited in the policy statement found that 15% of children were likely to be taken to one.

Advice for Parents

Consider these tips if you take your child to a retail clinic:

  • They're designed only to handle common illnesses such as pinkeye, strep throat, and ear infections, as well as minor injuries. They're not meant to replace primary care doctors.
  • Tell the health-care provider at the clinic if your child is allergic to any medications.
  • Bring contact information for your child’s doctor so the clinic can forward information about the visit.

According to CVS, MinuteClinic is the largest and fastest-growing retail clinic provider in the country, with more than 800 locations inside CVS pharmacies in 28 states and the District of Columbia. They're staffed by nurse practitioners and physician assistants -- they are not doctors but are licensed to practice medicine. 

Walgreens runs about 400 Healthcare Clinics staffed by nurse practitioners in 20 states and the District of Columbia. And nearly 100 Walmart stores in 20 states offer clinics that are owned and run by independent companies.

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