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Staffed with nurse practitioners and physician assistants, MinuteClinics aim to provide fast, cost-effective health care in busy public settings. The clinics are located in supermarkets, stores such as Target and Best Buy, and even some corporate office parks and universities.


A patient can walk in without an appointment. If someone is ahead of her, she can take a beeper and continue shopping while waiting to be paged. A typical visit lasts about 15 minutes and costs about $44 (more if a test or vaccine is included). Most health insurance plans are accepted.


Following standard national practice guidelines, a MinuteClinic practitioner treats an array of common illnesses, such as upper respiratory infection, bronchitis, conjunctivitis, ear infection, poison ivy, and seasonal allergies. She can also perform cholesterol, blood glucose, and pregnancy screening and administer some vaccines.


If a practitioner wants to deviate from guidelines for treating an illness, she confers with a physician on call first. If she refers the patient to a primary care provider or emergency department, the patient isn't charged.


MinuteClinics keep overhead costs down by staffing each clinic with a single nurse practitioner or physician assistant-no receptionist or support staff. A software system helps guide her through diagnosis, treatment, and billing. She sends a copy of the medical record for the visit to the patient's primary care provider.


Originally established in Minneapolis, Minn., MinuteClinics have spread to Baltimore, Md., and are expanding nationwide. For more information, including a price list for services offered at various locations, go to http://www.minuteclinic.com.