When it comes to healthcare access and providers, retail clinics, urgent care centers, and primary care offices have been instrumental in providing care for many who need their services. However, these health centers are not one and the same. While they all offer access to medical services, the extent of what they provide varies. How do retail clinics, urgent care centers, and primary care offices differ?

Retail Clinics

These convenient healthcare clinics aim to provide walk-in services for patients are located inside of retail stores, like supermarkets and department stores. You can typically find retail clinics in stores like Walmart and at pharmacies such as Walgreens. Instead of physicians, these clinics, staff nurse practitioners (NPs) or physician assistants (PAs), and are intended to be affordable and efficient.

Different location operators provide different services, but generally, retail clinics provide care for common illnesses and injuries, including a sore throat, cold and flu symptoms, allergies, minor cuts, burns, rashes and headaches. The operating hours for retail clinics vary, however, many are open from 8:00 am to 8:00 pm.

However, it is important to understand that most retail clinics do not offer comprehensive healthcare services such as on-site lab and STD testing, imaging services such as x-rays, or minor surgical care available in urgent care centers.

Urgent Care Centers

When compared to retail clinics, urgent care centers are a bit more advanced in its operation- staff and equipment included. Typically, urgent care centers have at least one medical doctor in-house that is available to see patients during operating hours.

Most urgent care centers are equipped with the equipment, like an X-Ray machine, that can facilitate more severe urgent services and manage injuries like broken bones that retail clinics are to accommodate. Whereas emergency rooms typically have long wait times, the average wait time at an urgent care center is 15 minutes or less.

Most urgent care centers have extended operating hours, commonly 8:00 am to 8:00 pm, seven days a week, and offer low co-pay rates as well as special, affordable out-of-pocket prices.

Primary Care Offices

Primary care offices are staffed by physicians, provide a variety of services and are intended to provide ongoing care. Primary care physicians establish a relationship with their patients, manage their health and provide patient education, counseling, and promote health and wellness.

They are responsible for offering preventative services that can keep illness at bay. A primary care office performs vaccinations, physicals, check-ups, screenings and blood work, and help with the management of diseases such as diabetes and asthma. A primary care doctor also serves as a referral provider. These offices do not have the convenience of extended operating hours like urgent care centers.

When trying to decide which healthcare provider is best for you or your family, think about your current healthcare needs.