Many times, medical concerns can appear out of the blue. Your doctor’s office may be closed or unable to schedule an appointment for you immediately. Deciding which alternative is right for your illness or injury can be confusing, especially because there are various options.

Walk in clinic and emergency room are two of those options. Knowing the difference between the two can get you the care you need faster.

What is a walk in clinic?

A walk in clinic can be a good option if you’re not feeling well, but it’s not serious, or you have a minor injury. Staffed by nurse practitioners and physician assistants, these clinics treat patients of all ages with fast, convenient care.

When you visit a walk in clinic, care is given on a first-come, first-served basis. This means you don’t need an appointment and can just walk in for care. Some clinics offer online check-ins to make it a smoother process for patients and usually accept most insurances.

Walk in clinics treat medical issues such as:

  • Allergies or minor allergic reactions
  • Rash
  • Fever
  • Cold and flu symptoms such as earaches, sore throats, headaches, or low-grade fevers
  • Sinus and respiratory issues
  • Minor injuries, including sprains, strains, bruises, back pain, minor burns, or minor broken bones
  • Minor cuts, lacerations, and infections
  • Minor eye issues such as irritation or pink eye
  • Gastrointestinal issues
  • Urinary tract infections (UTIs)

Some walk in clinics offer additional services, including:

  • COVID-19 testing
  • Physicals for both children and adults
  • Occupational medicine solutions such as pre-employment screenings or treating work-related injuries
  • Virtual Telehealth appointments where a patient can use their device from the comfort of their home to talk to a provider about their concerns

What is an emergency room?

An emergency room (ER), also called an emergency department (ED), is part of a hospital or medical center. Emergency rooms are designed to handle emergent or life-threatening situations, so while you do not need an appointment at an emergency room, patients with the most severe illnesses and injuries are treated first.

You’ll see a doctor immediately if your injury or illness is severe. Otherwise, you may have X-rays or lab work done, or you may have to wait to see a provider.

You should go to an emergency room (or, in some cases, call 911) if you are experiencing any of these or similar symptoms:

  • Trouble breathing or not breathing at all
  • Serious head injury, usually combined with passing out, fainting, or confusion
  • Injury to the neck or spine
  • Severe burns
  • Severe chest pain or pressure
  • Severe pain
  • Severe allergic reaction (accompanied by hives, swelling, or trouble breathing)
  • Pain in the arm or jaw
  • Sudden loss of ability to speak, see, walk, or move
  • Weakness or drooping on one side of the body
  • Heavy bleeding
  • Possible broken bone
  • Deep wounds
  • Coughing or throwing up blood
  • High fever that doesn’t go away with medicine
  • Throwing up or loose stools that do not stop
  • Poisoning or overdose
  • Seizures

Walk in clinics vs. emergency rooms

There are various similarities and differences between walk in clinics and emergency rooms. Here are a few to be aware of:

Similarities between walk in clinics and emergency rooms

Both walk in clinics and emergency rooms:

  • Provide fast care.
  • Don’t require an appointment.
  • Offer testing, imaging technology, and diagnostics.
  • Accept most insurances.
  • Treat patients of all ages.

Differences between walk in clinics and emergency rooms

The primary differences between these two facilities include the following:

The bottom line

Walk in clinics provide more basic medical services for minor illnesses and injuries, whereas emergency rooms handle difficult or life-threatening situations.

It’s crucial to be aware of the differences between these two types of facilities so you can make an informed decision about where to go when you need care.

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