The Walk-In Clinics: An Overview

Posted December 21, 2020 by in Health + Fitness

The first walk-in clinics in the United States opened in the 1970’s and was founded by emergency room physicians who saw a need for emergency style care without jeopardizing the qualifications of doctors. 

During the 1980’s, however, the reputation of walk-in clinics began to decline because the clinics were usually staffed with physician’s who didn’t have access to the same training and credentials as doctors who worked in more traditional environments.

And while it’s easy to write off walk-in clinics as fake healthcare, especially if you’ve never stepped foot in one, when it comes to minor injuries and illnesses; they are an excellent way to get treatment without the wait at the emergency room. 

There are some distinct differences between walk-in clinics, urgent care and your local hospital, however and it’s important to know those differences and why they’re necessary to remember. 

  • Alike but Not the Same-A walk-in clinic shares a lot of attributes with an urgent care center and a hospital ER. However, that does not make them all the same. 

Walk-in clinics which are now commonly referred to as retail clinics, can diagnose and treat several non-life-threatening conditions that can happen at inopportune times. And while they can’t treat everything effectively, like a hospital can, there are certain instances when going to a walk-in clinic and skipping the ER wait makes great sense. 

These times include:

  • Rash without accompanying fever
  • Sore throat
  • Itchy, red, watery eyes
  • Ear pain
  • Cough or congestion symptoms
  • Painful urination
  • Sports physicals

Urgent Care centers are very similar to walk-in clinics, with the exception that they can handle more complicated medical cases. And with the growing need for non-emergency care during hours when doctor’s offices aren’t open, both walk-in clinics and urgent care centers have seen a huge surge in patients since their inception. 

While urgent care centers still aren’t an ER, they do offer services beyond what a walk-in clinic can supply. Some of these services include:

  • Fever with no signs of a rash
  • Abdominal pain
  • Cough or congestion
  • Wheezing or shortness of breath
  • Dehydration
  • Mild flu-like symptoms
  • Sprains and strains 
  • Abrasions or small cuts that may require stitches

Walk-in clinics and urgent care centers are a vital part of the healthcare system that allows patients who can’t see a doctor to get the care they need without the expense of an ER visit. This in turn keeps emergency rooms from getting backlogged with patients that don’t really need to be seen at the hospital. 

Walk-in clinics have certainly seen their share of rough times in the past; however, they have exploded in the United State over the last twenty years. As health care options continue to decline, they will become even more vital to low-income and impoverished areas where access to quality healthcare is at risk and trips to the emergency room mean continuous harassment from debt collectors. 

One of the biggest questions people ask regarding retail clinics is whether or not they’re worth the trip, or if they should just head to the emergency room. They’re concerned about insurance and expenses they might have to pay out of pocket. 

The good news is that most walk-in clinics take all types of health insurance, especially because a large portion of clinics are owned by physicians who wanted a way to give emergency room care to patients who didn’t actually need to be in the hospital. 

While urgent care and walk-in clinics do tend to be a bit pricier than a trip to your primary care physician, they are much, much less expensive than a trip to the ER which can easily cost five hundred dollars or more. On average a trip to the nearest walk-in clinic is going to run you about $155. While a trip to your doctor might be closer to $95, a trip to the ER is significantly more and that’s just to find you a bed to sit in while they evaluate your issues and concerns. 

Time Is Money

The old adage that time is money is rarely misplaced and certainly not when discussing walk-in clinics. A wait at the ER can run you anywhere from fifteen minutes to a couple of hours or more depending on what the hospital has to deal with that day. Fifteen minutes at a walk-in clinic and you’ll likely be in, seen and out again.

If time is money, the walk-in clinic is your best bet for getting what you need and wasting as little time doing it as possible. 

Money is Time

While time saved is certainly a great thing, money saved can be even better. What would you do if someone offered you a week’s vacation paid? And then said they were sending you on an all-expenses paid vacation for you and your family? Would you turn down the considerable time you’d get to spend with your loved ones? 

A visit to your local walk-in clinic can help you save money by getting you back to that paid vacation so much sooner and if that isn’t worth a visit to check things out, what is?

Put Emergencies Where They Belong

Oftentimes we live in a culture that classifies things, events, annoyances, and every other experience simply for the sake of figuring out the best way to categorize it. And then we stuff them into a neat little box with everything else that’s similar.

We’re human, so we like our neat little boxes. When it comes to deciding between a walk-in clinic or a trip to the ER, however, put the emergencies where they belong and everything else hit up a walk-in clinic first.

Trust us, if they think you need the hospital, they’ll make sure you get there. Whether they simply advise you that you need to head there or they call 9-1-1 to get an ambulance; one way or another, you’ll get where you need to be.

And on the possibility that it’s still not easy to choose, take the “boo-boos” to the walk-in clinics and the “owies” to the emergency room.