When you’re sick or injured, you likely want to get the medical care you need as fast as possible so you can start recovering. Knowing which care option is right for you is challenging. You have many options, including your primary care doctor’s office, a walk in clinic, or an emergency room. 

You should go to an emergency room if you have a severe or life-threatening illness or injury. In most other cases, a walk in clinic may suffice. 

Staffed by nurse practitioners and physician assistants, walk in clinics provide patients of all ages with convenient, affordable, and basic medical care for simple or minor health conditions.

Read on to learn more about why you should visit a walk in clinic instead of the ER.

Top 5 reasons to visit a walk in clinic vs. an emergency room

Unless your medical problem is life-threatening, you likely have time to make a decision to go to a walk in clinic instead of an emergency room. Here are a few of the top reasons to do so:

  • They are convenient. walk in clinics are available in your neighborhood, giving you access to care when and where you need it. In fact, many walk in clinics are located next to or near pharmacies to make filling your prescription a quick and easy process. 

walk in clinics may also be open during the evening or on weekends and holidays, providing care when you can’t visit your regular doctor.

  • They are affordable. According to 2020 data, the average cost of an emergency room visit is around $1,150 (though this depends on the specific care you need). walk in clinics are usually much more affordable, charging you a fraction of what you’d pay for the same services at an ER.
  • You may get care faster. You do not need an appointment to go to a walk in clinic or the ER. At the ER, patients are seen based on the severity of their condition, which means patients may come in after you but be seen before you. 

On the other hand, walk in clinics operate on a first-come, first-served basis. This means you can just walk into the clinic and patients will be seen in the order they get there. Generally, wait times are much shorter for walk in clinics vs. emergency room visits, getting you in and out faster. 

  • Telehealth virtual care may be available. If your condition requires a visit to the emergency room, you must physically go to the emergency room to get care. Some walk in clinics even offer virtual care. So, from the comfort of your home, you can get timely, expert medical advice and care for various illnesses and injuries.
  • You can streamline your check-in. Many walk in clinics make it easy to get care faster, often offering online check-in options that allow you to reserve your spot. This is like scheduling an appointment; it lets the staff know you’re on your way and what time to expect you. You can also often fill out paperwork and pay copays before getting to the facility. 

Walk in care vs. emergency room treatments

If you are experiencing any of the following, you should visit a walk in clinic:

  • Allergies or minor allergic reactions
  • Rash
  • Fever
  • Cold and flu symptoms (earaches, sore throats, headaches, or low-grade fevers)
  • Sinus and respiratory issues
  • Gastrointestinal issues
  • Urinary tract infections (UTIs)
  • Minor injuries (such as 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

Other services walk in clinics may offer:

  • COVID-19 testing
  • Physicals for both children and adults
  • Occupational medicine solutions

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 
  • Not breathing at all
  • Serious head, neck, or spine injury (especially if combined with passing out, fainting, confusion, or paralysis)
  • Severe burns
  • Severe chest pain or pressure
  • Severe pain
  • Severe allergic reaction (accompanied by hives, swelling, or trouble breathing)
  • Sudden loss of ability to speak, see, walk, or move
  • Weakness or drooping on one side of the body
  • Heavy bleeding or deep wounds, or coughing or throwing up blood
  • High fever, throwing up, or loose stools that don’t go away with medicine
  • Poisoning or overdose 
  • Seizures

Final thoughts

Walk in clinics are an excellent way to get trusted, immediate care. In many cases, they can be more convenient and cost-effective than the ER. Plus, they offer the same quality of care you would find at your regular doctor’s office or hospital.  If you need medical care and your regular doctor is unavailable, consider visiting a walk in clinic for the best care available.

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