Is a walk in clinic the same as the ER? The short answer is no, a walk in clinic and an emergency room (ER) are not the same.
Knowing the details of the differences between a walk in clinic and ER can help ensure you get the care you need at the best place for your situation. Read on to learn about the top four.
1. Walk in clinics and ERs treat different conditions and symptoms
In general, walk in clinics can treat a variety of minor and non-emergent conditions. They often have access to some basic X-ray/imaging and lab technicians to help diagnose and treat minor injuries and illnesses, but they are not designed to manage conditions that require rapid or advanced treatments.
Examples of conditions walk in clinics treat include:
- Earache, congestion, sore throat, headache, low-grade fever, cough, or other cold, flu, and/or respiratory symptoms.
- Pain, sprains, strains, broken bones, or other minor injuries.
- Minor cuts, lacerations, infections, or burns.
- Vomiting, diarrhea, stomach pain, or other gastrointestinal issues.
- Minor allergic reactions.
- Itching, irritation, pink eye, or other minor eye conditions.
- Rash, dermatitis, or other skin conditions or concerns.
Emergency rooms are equipped and designed to treat patients with emergent, severe, life-threatening, or complex illnesses or injuries. These conditions often require fast or advanced treatments that are only available in a hospital setting (like surgery) and access to a greater variety of providers, technology, and other services.
Examples of severe conditions an ER can treat include:
- A head, neck, or spine injury.
- Deep wounds, heavy bleeding, severe burns, or other severe wounds.
- Broken bones.
- Chest pain or pressure.
- Severe pain in the arm, jaw, or elsewhere in the body.
- Sudden loss of the ability to speak, see, walk, or move.
- Difficulty breathing.
- Weakness or drooping of one side of the body (an indicator of a stroke).
- Coughing or vomiting blood, or vomiting, diarrhea, or a high fever that has not gone away with medication.
2. Be seen faster at a walk in clinic vs. ER
At both walk in clinics and ERs you can just go whenever you need care. However, you can expect to spend much less time at a walk in clinic.
Walk In clinics:
- Treat patients on a first come, first served basis.
- Treat fewer patients at a time so providers can move faster from one patient to another.
- Treat minor conditions, so patients spend less time in the exam room.
- Treat patients based on the severity of their condition, so someone who arrives after you may be treated before you.
- Treat many patients at a time, so providers aren’t able to move as quickly from one patient to another.
- Treat emergent or complex conditions, so patients may have to have additional exams, testing, scans, or other treatments, adding time to their total visit.
Typically, patients can expect to spend several hours in an ER while walk in clinics often try to get patients treated and on their way home in 60 minutes or less.
3. Pay less at a walk in clinic vs. ER
How much you pay at an ER or walk in clinic depends on your specific condition, as well as your health insurance coverage. However, with the average cost of an ER visit sitting around $1,150, you can expect to pay hundreds or even thousands of dollars for services and treatment received at an emergency room.
Walk in clinics are more cost-effective. In fact, the average cost of a walk in visit is around $100 to $150. Some patients only have to pay a copay, and even if you don’t have health insurance, you’ll find walk in clinics usually have lower copays than what you’d pay at an ER.
4. Walk in clinics offer other services that ERs don’t
Emergency rooms are meant to treat patients and send them home (or admit them to the hospital if necessary). In most cases, patients are not going to an emergency room for any other reason. However, one benefit to walk in clinics is that they offer a variety of other services that can be beneficial to you and your health.
For example, walk in clinics may provide the following:
- Rapid testing for things like COVID-19, flu, and strep throat.
- Physicals for patients who may need documentation for school, sports, or employment.
- Occupational medicine solutions assist employers with things like pre-employment health screenings, fit testing, blood work, or treatment for work-related injuries to help keep employees safe, healthy, and productive.
- Virtual care, allows you to talk to a provider without leaving your couch. Whether you’re not feeling well or have questions about an injury or other minor condition, these providers can often diagnose and offer treatment options.
- Online check-in services, allow patients to “reserve a spot” in line. While this isn’t considered an appointment (and wait times can always vary), it can help streamline your appointment.
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