Last week I had the opportunity to use my local retail clinic, Take Care Clinic. It was 5:30 PM when my daughter announced that her sore throat was “really bad.” Since the pediatrician’s office was closed for the day, we decided to visit the Walgreen’s Take Care Clinic to have a strep throat culture.
When we arrived at the clinic, there were about six people ahead of us, all in line to get their $24.99 flu shots. The clinic’s semi-automated queue let’s you know how many patients are ahead of you, because it’s first come, first served as you sign-in at the kiosk. There is no administrative staff available to answer your questions as you wait in the queue to see the Nurse Practitioner (NP), who is busy seeing the patient’s ahead of you.
When our name was called and it was our turn, we were greeted by an assistant that took us into one of the two private rooms where we filled out the typical paper work (insurance card, driver’s license/id, reason for visit, age, birth date, etc.). We asked for a strep throat culture and they took a brief history, including blood pressure, weight, height , and finally a throat culture….. After this data was collected we moved into the next private room where we saw the NP. The NP reviewed the chart and results of the throat culture. She examined my daughter’s ears and throat. She used her laptop computer to walk through a protocol (series of questions about my daughter’s health and symptoms). We received a receipt for services, a prescription for antibiotic (her culture was positive) and were out of there in 45 minutes. The clinic transmitted the Rx directly to the Walgreen’s pharmacy so all we had to do wait 10 minutes to have the prescription filled.
How do the prices for services compare? Having never visited a retail clinic before, I had no idea what to expect. The clinic list prices for their services, but it’s not always obvious what service the patient will need, in addition to a throat culture. What I do know from past experience is that if we visit our pediatrician for a “sick visit” the pediatrician’s office charges $70 for the visit (this is the BCBS-IL negotiated rate for the service), and a throat culture is an additional charge of $27 at the pediatrician’s office. If I went to my pediatrician for my daughter’s strep throat, I would pay $97 for this service (see table below.).
My visit to the Take Care Clinic was surprisingly expensive. I was charged $108 for a new patient, comprehensive office visit and $17 for a rapid strep culture. Total charges for this visit were $125. I don’t think the “comprehensive office visit” was necessary. The clinic submitted the bill directly to my insurance company, and my health plan offered slight discounts (see table below.) The convenience of visiting the clinic immediately, rather than wait to see the pediatrician the following day, was a great service. The following day a staff member from the Take Care Clinic did a follow up call to our house to see how my daughter was feeling and asked if we had any questions --that’s good customer service. After this visit I researched and discovered that I could have just had the rapid strep throat culture done, without the added cost of an office visit at the clinic. It appears that they over treated my daughter at the clinic. All we asked for and all she needed was a rapid strep throat culture, but they unnecessarily did a full office visit. Had I know this when I went in, I would have demanded a “strep throat culture” only. Next time I will know better and hopefully, you’ll learn from my mistake.