It’s important to go to an emergency room (ER) or call 911 if you are experiencing symptoms of a heart attack or stroke, severe bleeding or pain, difficulty breathing, or another emergent or life-threatening injury or illness.
However, if the injury or illness you’re experiencing is more minor, a walk in clinic will likely be your best option. There are several benefits to going to a walk in clinic instead of an ER – keep reading to learn more about the top eight.
1. Get care for a number of minor symptoms and conditions
Whether you can’t get an appointment with your regular doctor, something happens outside of regular business hours, or you just want to be seen quickly, consider going to a walk in clinic. These clinics can diagnose and provide treatment for a variety of minor illnesses and injuries, including:
- Allergies or minor allergic reactions, including hives or a rash.
- Cold, flu, and respiratory symptoms such as earaches, congestion, sore throats, headaches, or low-grade fevers.
- Minor injuries such as bruises, minor pain concerns (like back pain), sprains and strains, or minor broken bones.
- Minor cuts, lacerations, and infections.
- Minor burns.
- Minor eye issues like irritation or pink eye.
- Gastrointestinal issues, including vomiting and diarrhea.
- Urinary tract infections (UTIs).
Walk in clinics also often have X-rays, other imaging technology, and lab equipment, to diagnose and treat even more concerns.
2. You can get care faster
walk in clinics see patients on a first-come, first-served basis. You may be able to get care faster because patients won’t be seen ahead of you regardless of when they arrive (unlike emergency rooms, which see patients in order of severity).
You’ll also likely have a shorter wait time in general. While there are more than 131 million visits to emergency rooms each year with nearly 27% of those patients waiting between one and two hours to see a doctor, many walk in clinics try to get their patients in and out in 60 minutes or less.
Some severe illnesses or injuries will require you to go to the emergency room, but you’ll have a much shorter wait at a walk in clinic if you have a minor or simple problem.
3. They are conveniently located
It’s important to get care when and where you need it, which is why having a walk in clinic in your neighborhood can be a major benefit. Many walk in clinics are located next to or near pharmacies or other medical facilities, which can make filling any prescriptions or getting follow-up care a quick and easy process.
4. They are open for extra hours
In addition to regular business hours, many clinics are also open evenings, weekends, and some holidays, which can be helpful since injury and illness don’t always strike at a convenient time. This is especially helpful if you have minor symptoms or concerns, but your primary care provider’s office is closed.
5. They are affordable
According to recent data, the average cost of an emergency room visit is around $1,150 (though this depends on the specific care you need and the cost can be less or significantly more). On the other hand, walk in clinics are usually much more affordable, charging you a fraction of what you’d pay for the same or similar services at an ER. If you have health insurance, you may pay even less.
Even if you don’t have health insurance, you’ll find that walk in clinics usually have lower copays than what you’d pay at an emergency room. This means there’s no need to avoid medical care or treatment you need because you’re afraid of not being able to afford it.
6. May offer access to virtual care
Having access to virtual care can be a huge benefit, and some walk in clinics may provide this service. This gives you access to fast and convenient care from the comfort of your home. Use your phone, tablet, or computer to talk to a provider about your concerns and get timely, expert medical care virtually. The provider can also offer advice on additional follow-up care or order a prescription for you if necessary.
7. No appointment is required, but streamlined check-in is offered
You do not need to schedule an appointment to go to a walk in clinic – you can just go whenever you need care. However, some walk in clinics offer the ability to check in online, essentially “reserving your spot” in line. While this isn’t an appointment and wait times can vary, this may make your visit faster and easier.
When using online check-in, you can wait at home, run errands, or whatever else is best for you and your family until your designated arrival time. Your clinic may even offer real-time reminders and/or updates via text or email.
Emergency rooms do not offer this option because patients are seen based on the severity of their emergency, regardless of when they arrive.
8. May offer additional services
Some walk in clinics may offer services above and beyond treatment for injuries or illness. Examples may include:
- COVID-19 and flu testing.
- Physicals for both children and adults, such as for school, sports, or employment.
- Occupational medicine solutions for employers, such as pre-employment screenings or treating work-related injuries.