If you’re suffering an illness or injury, you probably want to start feeling better as soon as possible.
Both ER and walk in clinic provide fast care whenever you need it, but how do you know which is better? The answer primarily depends on the severity of your symptoms, but there are a number of other factors to consider.
Walk In Clinics vs. Emergency Rooms
Consider the following reasons why a walk in clinic may be better than an emergency room in many cases:
If you’re experiencing an emergent, life-threatening, or complex illness or injury, you should go to an emergency room (or call 911 if necessary). Examples of serious symptoms may include:
- Choking, trouble breathing, or not breathing at all.
- Severe head injury (especially if combined with fainting or confusion), or injury to the neck or spine.
- Poisoning or overdose.
- Severe chest pain or pressure.
- Sudden loss of the ability to speak, walk, see or move, especially if combined with weakness or drooping of one side of the body (typically symptoms of a stroke).
- Heavy bleeding or deep wounds.
- Severe pain, broken bones, or pain in the arm or jaw.
- Severe allergic reaction (especially if accompanied by hives, swelling, or trouble breathing).
- Coughing or throwing up blood.
- Vomiting, diarrhea, or a high fever that does not go away with medicine.
- Severe burns.
However, if your illness or injury is minor, simple, and/or not life-threatening, you can likely go to a walk in clinic.
An appointment is not necessary at either an emergency room or a walk in clinic.
- Patients who go to an emergency room are seen in order of severity. That means even if a patient comes in after you but is experiencing something more severe or life-threatening, they will be seen before you. This makes wait times longer. In fact, about 34% of the 131 million ER visits a year spend between two and four hours in the emergency room, with about 27% waiting up to one hour to see a physician.
- If what you’re experiencing is not severe, you’ll have a much shorter wait time at a walk in clinic. walk in clinics see patients on a first-come, first-served basis, so patients who come in after you will not be seen before you.
In some cases, in the time you’d still be waiting at an ER, you may have been able to be seen, diagnosed, treated, and on your way home from a walk in clinic.
Even if you have health insurance, you should be prepared to pay hundreds or thousands of dollars for a trip to the emergency room. Coverage and cost depend on the care you need, but emergency room visits are not cheap.
Walk in clinics, on the other hand, are typically much more affordable, often charging a fraction of what you’d pay for an ER visit. Not only do walk in clinics usually have lower copays, but they often just charge less for services and treatment.
When you don’t feel good or are hurting, it’s important to be able to get care when and where you need it. Emergency rooms are usually located in your neighborhood and are open 24/7, but walk in clinics are also conveniently located for most patients.
Many walk in clinics are open during evening hours, on weekends, and even during some holidays. This means if your condition isn’t severe enough to go to an emergency room, but you don’t want to wait to see your primary care provider, you can get care at a walk in clinic.
Access to other services
Emergency rooms are part of a hospital or medical center, giving them access to a wider array of providers, technology, and services to treat a greater range of medical issues. This is especially beneficial for patients who require fast and/or advanced treatments only available in a hospital setting (like surgery), or if they must be admitted for additional testing, care, or monitoring.
While walk in clinics aren’t equipped to handle rapid, emergent, or advanced treatments, most do have basic X-ray, imaging, and lab technology to help diagnose and treat minor conditions. walk in clinics may also provide access to other services such as:
- COVID-19 and flu testing.
- Occupational medicine solutions such as pre-employment screenings or treatment for work-related injuries.
- Physical exams for children and adults for sports, school employment, or other needs.
- Access to virtual care. Through a mobile device, providers can help diagnose or offer treatment for your concern, and even write you a prescription or advise on follow-up care.
- Online check-in. Some walk in clinics may offer the opportunity to check in online while on your way to the clinic, or to reserve your spot for a later time and wait at home.
Which is better: A walk in clinic or an emergency room?
If you’re experiencing a serious, severe, emergent, or life-threatening injury, illness, or other health concern, you should go to an emergency room.
In most other cases, a walk in clinic is the better option. walk in clinics have shorter wait times, are more affordable, and may offer a variety of other services that make getting care faster and more convenient.