doctor examining patient

With the recent implementation of the Affordable Care Act, the United States is expecting a large influx of newly insured individuals requiring health care. Perhaps this is why our country has seen such a drastic rise in the number of walk-in clinics, going from 800 to 5,000 in recent years. And while this is a good step toward caring for a rapidly growing society, there are some very important limitations to these clinics that we should all be aware of, in order to ensure you and your loved ones receive the type of care you need, when you need it.

First, understand the difference between a family doctor and the physicians you might see at a walk-in clinic. Simply put, there is no replacement for a good relationship with a family doctor. Chronic conditions, such as high blood pressure, arthritis and diabetes, are best treated by a qualified family doctor who knows your history. Even if you don’t currently have any chronic illnesses, a doctor who knows you is more likely to recognize even the smallest warning signs.

Secondly, there are many advantages to a walk-in clinic, depending on your circumstances. Perhaps the greatest advantage is convenience. Nobody plans on getting sick or hurt – it just happens. And when it happens, it’s possible that your family doctor may not be available. Walk-in clinics don’t require appointments, so you can see someone usually very quickly. Some other advantages include:

  • Lower prices
  • Pay with cash or bill your insurance
  • Up-front pricing
  • Short appointments

But for every positive, there’s usually a negative. Convenience, for example. There are no appointments, so you can go in at any time. But what happens when you arrive and the waiting room is full? This can both increase wait times and rush visits with the physician. Other possible cons could include:

  • Patients aren’t typically seen by a M.D.
  • Limits on conditions that can be treated
  • Physicians have limited knowledge of your history
  • Lack of continual care

Despite these “cons,” you should not feel discouraged about going to a walk-in clinic for minor things that require immediate care. In some cases, like with a broken arm for example, even if they are not able to apply a cast, they can x-ray and splint the arm, as well as provide something for the pain until you’re able to see your regular doctor. They can also treat many seasonal, common illnesses such as strep throat and administer yearly vaccines.