There are three main differences between a retail clinic and an urgent care center:
- Different licensing levels for medical provider: almost 100% of retail clinics are staffed with a nurse practitioner or a physician assistant (2-3 years of medical education) while some urgent care centers are staffed with medical doctors (4 years of medical education + 2-5 years of training) .
- Different levels of care: urgent care centers often have imaging equipments and staffed with technicians to care for minor traumas like open wound or cut. Retail clinics are lack of these equipments and often route patients to an urgent care or an emergency department instead.
- Different price point: retail clinics could be more affordable for less severe conditions and preventative care, while urgent care centers are more affordable for acute conditions like flu-like symptoms and minor trauma.
With that, there are also some similarities to keep in mind:
- Both have walk-in availability. With that being said, because of the pandemic, some clinics require appointment booking online. It is always advisable to call them ahead of time and check.
- Pricing is very unpredictable no matter where you go. Our own independent research found that cost for an urgent care visit can vary as much as three times, this can be said also for retail clinics with a la carte price menus.
- Both take insurance and have cash rates. You can still go without insurance, however the cost could be cheaper or sometimes more expensive than going through insurance.
Tips: If you have no insurance or a high deductible, using Mira is a great way to book an urgent care appointment at over 1100 clinics nationwide for a fixed $99 copay (inclusive of any in-house procedures and testing). You can also book an STD test or annual bloodwork for as low as $49 copay.
How Retail Clinics Work
Retail clinics often take care of preventative care needs. These facilities are often located within or near pharmacies or stores that sell health-related merchandise. Practitioners who you’ll see at these facilities are generally going to be a mid-level provider, a nurse practitioner and a physician assistant.
These clinics often focus on convenience and availability to the patient as well as being affordable for low-income persons. Walk-in retail clinics treat illnesses or conditions of lesser severity, such as sore throat, vaccination, and pregnancy testing. Retail clinics can also act as a convenient provider to university students whose primary care physicians are far away.
Patients seeking treatment for more severe conditions should seek care at urgent care or the ER, depending on the severity.
Alternatively, free clinics may be an option but offer limited services, are not widely available, and are not as accessible, usually offering services only 1-2 times a week.
How much does it cost to get care at a retail clinic like CVS Minute Clinic or Walgreen ?
According to the updated out-of-pocket price menu published by the Minute Clinic in June 2021. It is difficult to estimate the final bill because often there are multiple charges - provider time + add-ons. We have composed a list of popular conditions and common charges you will see in the final bill:
|Condition||Office visit||Tests||Minute Clinic Price Estimate|
|Sore throat/Fever||35 minutes||Flu + strep tests||$188|
|UTI||35 minutes||Urine dip test||$94|
|Flu Vaccination||Preventative||Influenza vaccine||$109|
CVS Minute Clinic Out of Pocket Price List updated June 2021
|Office Visit (provider time)||Minute Clinic Price|
|New Patient 15-29 minute Visit||$99|
|New Patient 30-44 minute Visit (most common)||$139|
|New Patient 45-49 minute Visit||$149|
|New Patient 60-75 minute Visit||$159|
|Established Patient 15-29 minute Visit||$69|
|Established Patient 30-44 minute Visit (most common)||$99|
|Established Patient 45-49 minute Visit||$139|
|Established Patient 60-75 minute Visit||$149|
|Add-ons (in-house tests)||Minute Clinic Price|
|Flu Test Influenza A & B||$35|
|Lipid Panel (Cholesterol Screen)||$37|
|Urine Dip Stick||$36|
|Blood Sugar Test||$25|
|Mono Test (Heterophile Antibody Screen)||$22|
|Strep Group A Culture Isolation/Identification||$33|
|Influenza A+B Test||$35|
|Conjunctivitis Rapid Test||$25|
|Infectious Detection - Quick Strep||$33|
|Preventative & Vaccination||Minute Clinic Price|
|SEASONAL FLU VACCINE||$50|
|SKIN TEST TUBERCULOSIS||$35|
|HEPATITIS A VACCINE ADULT||$145|
|HEPATITIS B VACCINE ADULT||$145|
|HPV 9 VACCINE||$250|
|IPV VACCINE (POLIO)||$115|
|MENINGOCOCCAL CONJUGAGTE VACCINE||$159|
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How Urgent Care Clinics Work
Urgent care facilities are more equipped to treat more mild to severe non life-threatening medical conditions. These centers often are a mean to relieve emergency rooms (ERs) of patients with non-emergent conditions. Providers at these centers generally consist of one or two medical doctors as well as nurse practitioners and physician assistants, but your provider may differ depending on your condition.
Mackenzie Schultz RN/BSN with BlueBiology states, “Urgent Care clinics, also known as acute care clinics, are equipped to deal with more time-sensitive injuries or illnesses that are not life-threatening. These clinics are best used in lieu of seeing your primary care physician if it is after-hours or you are unable to make an appointment in a timely manner for injuries or illnesses more severe than those handled by your local walk-in clinic, but less severe than those handled at an Emergency Room.”
Some of the more serious conditions urgent care centers are able to treat include cuts or lacerations, broken bones, or head injuries. Remember that if a condition is life-threatening, a person should immediately seek treatment at the hospital ER closest to them.
Urgent care centers are usually equipped with more advanced diagnostic tools such as x-ray and MRI machines. Practitioners at urgent cares are also equipped to provide casts, sutures, and inhalers. Other services available may include:
- Blood Tests
- Pregnancy Tests
- School and Sports Physicals
- STD and STI Testing
- Strep Testing
- Ear, Nose, and Throat Conditions
While these centers are capable of providing well-patient care, it is not advised that most patients use these centers in place of a primary care physician. These centers are mainly meant to be used as an alternative to the ER, where costs are high and wait times are often long, especially for non-emergent cases. Average wait times at urgent care facilities vary, with an average wait time of 15 to 45 minutes.
How much does urgent care cost out-of-pocket?
|Urgent Care Center||Office visit cost||Add-ons|
|Concentra||$181 - $446||$39- $446|
|American Family Care||$70 - $140||$30- $315|
|MedExpress||$119 - $239||$100+|
|City||Out of Pocket Average|
|New York City, NY||$189|
|Los Angeles, CA||$175|
|Salt Lake City, UT||$175|
|Las Vegas, NV||$135|
*These costs reflect the office visit cost, 1 test (ex: rapid flu, strep tests). Additional testing could range between $15-60 per test. An x-ray could cost an additional $65 and higher-level services could add $99 or more.
Is there a cheaper alternative? Could I go to the ER instead?
Most urgent care centers and walk-in retail clinics will treat uninsured patients as well and are able to offer affordable payment plans if a patient is not able to pay the costs up-front. Mira is able to lower these costs further through our affordable monthly plan of $45 per month, and a fixed $99 urgent care copay plus lab tests and other services available.
ER visits usually cost upwards of $2300 while urgent care centers usually charge $180 per visit, varying depending on the services provided. Walk-in clinics are more affordable than urgent care facilities but offer fewer services.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) for Walk-In Clinics vs Urgent Care
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Virtual primary care, urgent care, and behavioral health visits are only $25 with a Mira membership.
How do I know if a my insurance is accepted?
Most walk-in retail clinics and urgent care centers have a list of accepted insurance providers on their websites. If not listed, you can call the facility before your visit to ensure your coverage is accepted. If your provider is not accepted, search other providers so that your visit is provided at the lowest cost possible.
Are there any hidden fees to be aware of when visiting urgent care or a walk-in clinic?
Being aware of what charges appear on your bill is important to avoid any hidden fees any medical centers - ERs, urgent cares, or walk-in clinics - may add on. Patients should ask to make sure you are not unnecessarily charged:
- Are there cheaper care alternatives?
- What can I expect to be charged for after seeking care for likely diagnoses?
- Could this condition be treated at a walk-in clinic as opposed to an urgent care?
- What portion of my bill will consist of administrative fees?
- What portion of my bill will be directly contributed by care cost?
- Are there cheaper pharmaceutical alternatives to my prescription?
Most providers will be honest about the cost of care and are often required to show a breakdown of your bill, but knowing the right questions to ask will ensure you pay the least possible amount for the best possible care.
Are nurse practitioners and physician assistants qualified to provide proper care?
Nurse practitioners and physician assistants are the primary providers at retail clinics and often at urgent care centers. At urgent care facilities, there is also usually at least one medical doctor either present or on call.
Nurse practitioners and physician assistants are trained to provide care for less emergent medical conditions such as the ones that you should seek care for at clinics and urgent care centers. Medical doctors are more equipped to treat life-threatening, severe conditions and staff the ER. Providers are allocated to these different medical centers to provide the best patient experience possible to each individual seeking care.
The Bottom Line
In comparing walk-in clinics vs urgent care centers, it is important to consider the type and severity of the condition you are seeking treatment for. Walk-in clinics are designed to treat less complex medical issues, while urgent care is equipped to treat more severe but non-emergent conditions. Both centers offer services at lower costs and greater accessibility than the ER, but they both can still be expensive.
Gavin is a 4th Year student at the University of Virginia, studying Medical Anthropology, Ethics, & Care as well as Environmental Science. He is passionate about providing healthcare resources and proper education in order to promote life and health for all.