If you’re not feeling well or have experienced an injury, you may be wondering where you need to go to get medical attention. Depending on the severity of your problem, you’ll likely consider visiting either a walk in clinic or an emergency room. Knowing what is treated at each can help you decide which option will give you the care you need.

Read on to learn about what a walk in clinic and emergency room are and what can be treated at each.

What is a walk in clinic?

A walk in clinic is a type of healthcare facility that provides convenient, affordable, and basic medical care. Typically staffed by nurse practitioners and physician assistants, patients of all ages can be treated for simple or minor health conditions, including common illnesses and injuries.

These clinics offer care on a first come, first served basis, which means there is no appointment necessary and you can just walk in if you need care. Some clinics offer online check-ins to expedite the process and make it smoother for patients, and most insurances are accepted.

What is an emergency room?

An emergency room, also known as ER, emergency department, or ED, is a department in a hospital or medical center. The primary purpose of ERs is to be ready to deal and assist with emergency and/or life-threatening situations. You do not need an appointment at an emergency room, but patients with the most severe problems are treated first.

When you arrive at an emergency room, your information will be taken and you’ll have an initial exam. You’ll see a doctor immediately if your injury or illness is severe. Otherwise, you may have X-rays or lab work done or have to wait.

Walk in clinic vs. ER treatments

If you are injured or not feeling well, you need to decide whether you can wait to make an appointment with your provider, should visit a walk in clinic, or if you need to go to the emergency room. However, sometimes it can take time to determine which option is best for you.

The most important difference between walk in clinics and emergency rooms is the type of treatment you may need, and whether your situation is life-threatening.

Walk in clinic treatments

If you are experiencing the following symptoms or something similar, you can likely be treated at a walk in clinic:

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

Walk in clinics may also:

  • Provide COVID-19 testing
  • Have X-ray technology to help treat your injury
  • Offer physicals for children and adults
  • Provide occupational medicine solutions

In some cases, walk in clinics may also offer virtual telehealth options where patients can use their mobile devices to talk to a provider from the comfort of their homes.

Emergency room treatments

On the other hand, call 911 or go to your local emergency room for things like:

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

You will have access to a much more comprehensive array of providers and medical equipment at an emergency room which is why you should go there if you have a true emergency. They can also admit you to the hospital, where you can get additional treatment, monitoring, or care.

The bottom line

Walk in clinics can provide quick and convenient care for minor injuries and illnesses, while the emergency room is best for life-threatening situations. Both have experienced staff who are equipped to provide quality care so you can get the help you need.

If you’re ever unsure about which option is best for your situation, call 911 for advice. It’s better to be safe than sorry when it comes to your health.

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