Difference Between a Walk-In Clinic and Urgent Care

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jackrobertsBy Jack Roberts

People are becoming more educated about the existence of urgent care every day. It is ever more important in an environment of rising healthcare costs and overcrowded emergency rooms for people to know when to use urgent care over the ER. Another option exists, however, and it’s equally important to understand how it works. This other option is the walk-in clinic. Walk-in clinics offer specific services that in some important ways are different than an urgent care center. Learn the differences between a walk-in clinic vs urgent care, so when you need medical help you can make the best choice.

Walk-In Clinics

They are all over the place in strip malls and indoor shopping malls. Originally intended to serve people with no insurance or not enough insurance, walk-in clinics provide basic medical services at an inexpensive cost. They are generally designed as resources for basic health and wellness, non-serious conditions like minor infections, low-level burns and cuts, and basic illnesses like an upset stomach, rash, sore throat or the common cold.

Walk-in clinics may also offer services like pregnancy tests, contraception, routine medical check-ups and basic vaccinations. They are founded on convenience and serving basic needs and usually see patients on a first-come, first-serve basis. Usually at a clinic of this nature you will be served by a nurse practitioner who may or may not have a license to write a prescription. A physician may be on call to handle more expert needs, but often isn’t on site.

The Down Side

According to a Market Watch report, there are several downsides to service at a walk-in clinic. The convenience and availability of clinics like this make patients over 65 percent more likely to choose a walk-in over their family doctor when they need basic services. This forms a threat to family doctors, which can contribute to rising healthcare costs. In addition, according to einsurance.com, while many clinics accept big-name insurance companies, regional and Blue Cross plans may not be accepted. Finally, treatment by a nurse practitioner can result in a lower level of care than that you’d get by a full physician.

The Urgent Care Clinic

Urgent care clinics offer a much higher level of care than walk-in clinics do. They serve a vital part of the healthcare chain between walk-ins and emergency rooms. At an urgent care facility, you can receive treatment for a broad variety of medical conditions from serious cuts needing stitches to treatments for serious infections and illnesses to setting and casting broken bones. Urgent care facilities are staffed by ER doctors or family practice doctors, so you will receive the same high quality of care you would get at your family doctor’s office.

It’s important to remember the “urgent” in urgent care. Urgent care facilities exist to provide immediate care for conditions that are not true, life-threatening emergencies as well as offering basic overall medical care. U.S. News and World Report demonstrates the differences between the ER, urgent care and walk-in clinics, pointing out that urgent and emergency aren’t necessarily the same thing but that care by a physician far outweighs that by a nurse practitioner. Urgent care centers accept many forms of insurance and offer high quality and complete care.

Walk-In vs Urgent Care

This is not to say that walk-in clinics don’t have a place. For those who are still underinsured, even in the era of the Affordable Care Act, a clinic can provide basic health and wellness services to help patients remain healthy and free from disease. They can provide pregnancy tests, contraception and basic care at an affordable out-of-pocket level. A study in the Annals of Internal Medicine in August 2009 stated that the average cost of an in-store clinic was around $110, where an urgent care visit averaged around $156. The difference, of course, is the much higher degree of care at the urgent care, and the broader range of insurance accepted in urgent care.

However, for more serious conditions, it could end up being costlier. As the U.S. News article points out, 10 percent of patients who go to in-store clinics are referred to a PCP, ER or other higher level care facility because their needs are beyond the scope of the walk-in.

In the end, for those patients not suffering life-threatening injuries who need healthcare immediately or outside the office hours of their primary care or family doctor, an urgent care clinic is probably the best bet. You will receive care from a doctor, can get treatment for a broad variety of medical needs from basic checkups to broken bones, and your local insurance will be more likely to be accepted. For the cost of a copay you can receive the same level of treatment you would get at your doctor or the ER. For more information about urgent care in the New York area, check out our brochure and pay us a visit today!

Jack Roberts is an expert marketer who specializes in promoting and growing physician practices. He currently works with UrgentWay to help improve their online footprint and garner interest in their Urgent Care, Occupational Health and Health services.