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    Alternatives to the Doctor's Office

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    These days, there are a range of low-cost, convenient alternatives to the traditional doctor’s visit. It’s now easier than ever for patients to get medical care at a fixed price – and without an appointment.

    Here are 3 options:

    1) Web-based services. You can access a doctor remotely via the computer, tablet or mobile device. During the visit, a doctor will evaluate symptoms and offer a diagnosis, if appropriate, and provide a prescription if needed.

    Companies such as Doctor on Demand, American Well, MDLIVE, and Teledoc offer 15-minute visits online with a licensed physician, typically for a flat fee of $ 40 to $ 50.

    You should check with your health plan to see if you’re eligible to get help covering the cost of an online visit. Increasingly, employers and insurers are offering these products as part of their benefits packages.

    2) Retail clinics. Retail clinics provide primary medical care and are based in retail drugstores and supermarkets. They can treat ailments such as strep throat, infections, minor wounds and joint sprains. They also offer vaccinations and physicals.

    Retail clinics tend to be staffed by nurse practitioners and physician assistants, but are supervised by doctors who are on-call for consultation when needed.

    The largest provider nationwide of retail clinics is CVS. Also available in some parts of the country are Walgreens’ Take Care, Kroger’s Little Clinic and clinics at Target. Walmart recently announced that it will be opening primary care clinics in Texas and South Carolina, and then around the country.

    The average cost of services at in-store CVS MinuteClinics is $ 79 to $ 89. Prices for the services are posted on the company’s website and on electronic message boards in the clinics, so you can find out exactly what you’ll pay for the care ahead of time.

    Many insurance policies pay for care received at retail clinics, so check with your insurer or with the clinic to see if your care may be covered by your policy.

    3) Urgent care centers. Urgent care clinics are usually operated by physicians, and most treat conditions that require immediate medical attention but don’t rise to the level of an emergency. If you have an infection, a cut that requires stitches, or a joint sprain, an urgent care center could be a good option for you.

    Typically, the care you get at urgent care clinics is less expensive than the emergency room, and you’re also likely to avoid the long wait common in the ER.

    Prices vary depending on the center and the service, but they are typically posted where they can be easily seen. Many insurance company provider networks now include urgent care centers, but check your policy to be sure. .

    While these options are more convenient and, in many cases, more affordable than traditional care, they should only be used for minor illnesses and injuries. In emergency medical situations, you need to call 911. And, if you’re managing a chronic illness, such as diabetes, it’s best to establish an on-going relationship with a doctor who can really get to know you.

    Have you used any of these or other services instead of your traditional doctor? Share your experience in the comments section below.

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