If you are experiencing severe bleeding or pain, difficulty breathing, symptoms of a heart attack or stroke, or another serious injury or illness, it’s important to go to an emergency room (ER) or call 911. 

However, a walk in clinic will be your best option for most everything else due to shorter wait times, convenience, and affordability.

Knowing the differences between walk in clinics and an emergency room and the top reasons to go to a walk in clinic can help you decide where you need to go if you’re seeking care.

Differences between walk in clinics and an ER

  • The severity of the condition: The primary difference between a walk in clinic and an emergency room is the seriousness of the injuries and illnesses they treat. Emergency rooms treat emergent, life-threatening, or complex conditions, while a walk in clinic treats minor, simple, and non-life-threatening conditions. 
  • Speed of care: If you go to an emergency room, you likely need immediate and/or advanced treatments that are only available in a hospital setting, while those who go to a walk in clinic do not require rapid or advanced treatments. 
  • Access to treatment: Emergency rooms are part of a hospital or medical center, so they have access to a wider array of providers, technology, and services to treat a broader range of serious conditions. walk in clinics also have basic X-ray, imaging, and lab technology to diagnose and treat, but they are designed for more minor injuries and illnesses. 
  • Order of care: Emergency rooms treat patients with the most serious illness/injury first, while walk in clinics treat on a first come, first served basis.  
  • Staff: Walk in clinics are typically staffed by nurse practitioners and physician assistants. Emergency rooms are staffed by a variety of doctors, nurses, surgeons, and other specialty providers.
  • Post-diagnosis: While some people get to go home after being seen at an emergency room, others must be admitted to the hospital for further testing, monitoring, or treatment. Those who go to a walk in clinic are seen, diagnosed, and treated quickly and they get to go home after. 

Reasons to go to a walk in clinic

In most cases, a walk in clinic can provide all the care you need. Here are some of the top reasons to visit your local walk in clinic:

Walk in clinics offer care for minor illnesses and injuries

Walk in clinics treat minor or simple medical issues such as:

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

Some walk in clinics may also provide additional services such as COVID-19 testing, physicals, occupational medicine solutions, or virtual telehealth appointments, allowing you to talk to a doctor from the comfort of your home. 

Walk in clinics are less expensive

The average cost for an emergency room visit is around $1,150, though depending on what you need while there, the cost could be even more. 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. And, if you have health insurance coverage, you may pay even less. 

Walk in clinics have shorter wait times 

While some illnesses or injuries require you to go to the emergency room, you’ll have a much shorter wait at a walk in clinic if you have a minor or simple problem. In fact, many walk in clinics work to get their patients seen, treated, and on their way home in 60 minutes or less. 

Walk in clinics are convenient and don’t require an appointment 

Many walk in clinics are open when a regular doctor’s office isn’t, including evenings, weekends, and even holidays. And because walk in clinics see patients on a first-come, first-served basis, you do not need an appointment to be seen. 

Walk in clinics are also available in your neighborhood, so you have access to fast and affordable care when and where you need it. Many walk in clinics are located next to or near pharmacies, making filling prescriptions a quick and easy process.

Final thought 

Walk in clinics offer convenient care for relatively minor illnesses and injuries, at a fraction of the cost of an emergency room visit. They are great options when you need to be seen quickly or during times when regular doctors’ offices aren’t open. 

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