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Minute clinics

The fast-paced American landscape already offers eight-minute abs, three-minute speed dating, and two minute movies.  Now, there's a new time-saving tool spreading across the country: the one-minute clinic.  Countdown's Monica Novotny explains.

If you're sick, they're quick.  That's the mantra at Minute Clinic where patients don’t need patients.

These walk-in health centers take insurance, and treat the most common ailments — no appointment necessary.  Currently, 22 have opened in retail and grocery stores.  It’s one-stop shopping for medicine.

“You sign in, they have a beeper or pager and you can walk around as well, I actually did my shopping today,” says Minute Clinic patient Jen McClellan, with two carts of groceries in tow.

To Dr. James Woodburn, “the heart of the program is really to meet the needs of the patients.”  The CMO of Minute Clinic says, “People in American today are very busy.  It's difficulty for them to take time off of work to get into the doctor either later in the day or the next day.”

It’s fast, cheap and you don’t need an appointment.

But don’t expect to find a doctor inside these clinics.  One nurse practitioner meets with up to 40 patients a day.  They work using a million dollar computer software system, a hi-tech guide through strict medical protocols for tests, diagnosis and treatment.

“Obviously we have the schooling for this, but it's just very nice to able to have that backup,” says Carole Stranger, a nurse practitioner at Minute Clinics.

But many doctors say quick does mean quality — even with a computer's help.

Dr. Mary Frank of the American Academy of Family Physicians says these quick check-ups cannot always catch more serious conditions.  “There are so many symptoms that can be indicators of a breadth of different problems. Nausea can mean common stomach flu, but it can also mean an ulcer.”  Dr. Frank warns, “You can't sort that out in a 10-minute visit.  I think the concern is more, ‘Will we miss critical illness? Will we miss chronic illnesses?’”

Even so, the clinics are gaining in popularity, logging almost 250,000 visits since opening in 2000.  They say they haven’t had one malpractice suit, and their research shows 99 percent of patients leave as satisfied customers, with or without medical insurance.

The group plans to expand to 350 clinics in at least 20 metropolitan areas by 2009.

But will 60-second treatments replace traditional care?  The clock is ticking.

“They're providing a service that highlights part of the problem with our healthcare system today, which to date, hasn't really been patient-centered.”