Even though both an emergency room and a walk in clinic treat people who are sick or injured, there are quite a few differences between visits at each. The primary difference is the types and severity of conditions in each treatment, but there are also differences in wait time, cost, and other services offered.

Read on to learn more about the top five differences between a walk in clinic and an emergency room visit and why you may want to choose one over the other for care.

1. Level of care and treatments

Emergency rooms are designed to treat emergent, complex, or life-threatening conditions. They are built as part of a hospital or a standalone emergency department, giving them access to a greater variety of providers, technology, and services to provide fast and/or more advanced treatments.

Walk in clinics treat minor, simple, or non-life-threatening conditions. While walk in clinics are often equipped with some imaging and lab technology (like X-rays), they are designed for conditions that do not require rapid or advanced treatments and instead can diagnose and treat more minor ailments.

Additionally, walk in clinics may provide a variety of additional services that emergency rooms may not offer, such as:

  • Virtual care
  • COVID-19 or flu testing
  • Physicals
  • Occupational medicine solutions
  • And more

2. Order of triage

The goal of an emergency room is to triage, diagnose, and treat patients with serious illnesses or injuries as quickly as possible. To help ensure those with the most serious conditions get seen the fastest, ERs treat patients with the most severe illness or injury first, regardless of when they arrive. This means patients who arrive after you could be seen before you.

On the other hand, walk in clinics treat patients on a first come, first served basis, so patients will be seen in the order they arrive. And by taking advantage of services like online check-in (when available), patients may be able to streamline their visits even more.

3. Wait times

Because emergency rooms see patients in order of severity, not in the order they arrive, this can lead to much longer wait times (depending on your condition). If your situation is less severe, you could be waiting for one to two hours or longer to be seen, and it can take another extended period of time before you’re able to see a doctor.

However, you’ll be seen much faster at a walk in clinic. Once you arrive, the clinic will work quickly to get you registered and back to see a provider. Many clinics even aim to get patients in and out in 60 minutes or less, ensuring a positive patient experience and getting you on the road to recovery faster.

4. Cost

In many cases, patients can expect to spend hundreds or thousands of dollars for an emergency room trip, and even more for ambulance services. While this is dependent on your condition and the specific care you need, services provided by an ER just generally cost more. Additionally, your costs will continue to increase if you’re admitted to the hospital.

Walk in clinics are usually much more affordable. In fact, many patients only have to pay a copay for their visit. If you don’t have health insurance or receive additional services, your cost may be more, but in general, the average cost of a trip to a walk in clinic is between $100 and $150.

5. Staffing

Emergency rooms are staffed by and have access to a large array of nurses, doctors, and specialists. Because they are usually part of a larger hospital, you will be able to see any providers in that hospital that you need.

Walk in clinics don’t treat as severe or complex conditions, and nurse practitioners and physician assistants typically staff them. Nevertheless, these providers can help diagnose and treat your condition quickly and order any prescriptions or advise on follow-up care you may need.

The bottom line

Both emergency rooms and walk in clinics offer valuable services for treating different types of conditions.

When deciding where to go, it’s important to consider the severity of your condition, cost, wait times, and any other factors that may be important to you. That way, you can make the best decision for yourself or your family about where to get the care you need.  ?

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