5 Commonly Asked Questions About Walk-In Clinics

We have all had that terrible experience of feeling sick or having an accident and not being able to get a quick appointment with our busy family doctor. Many people and too many families do not even have a family doctor. You could go to the emergency department at the hospital, but unless your situation is serious and dire, you will end up waiting and waiting and waiting. That’s where walk-in clinics come in.

1. What are walk-in clinics?

Walk-in clinics are the attempt by physicians and health practitioners to fill the gap between regular and emergency care across Canada. They have grown so popular that as many as twenty-five percent of all patients now report visiting a walk-in clinic at some time during every year.

The walk-in clinics are staffed by professional and certified doctors and other health care professionals and they are often located in the same buildings where x-rays, diagnostic testing and other forms of ancillary health care services have their operations. That makes them a convenient stop where people can get all their immediate health care needs addressed in a prompt and professional fashion.

2. Are there different types of walk-in clinics?

A walk-in clinic could be best described as being part of a broad category of health care facilities where patients can show up and be served with having an appointment. Across North America there are many different types of health care facilities under this umbrella and they include urgent care centres, retail clinics, community health care clinics, and even free clinics.

In Canada, there are basically two types of walk-in clinics. They are the community health care clinics which are operated through a health care board or regional organization, or private walk-in clinics that are operated by individual or groups of medical doctors.

3. What is their purpose?

One of the main reasons that people visit walk-in clinics is because they do not have a family doctor. Or because they cannot get an appointment when they are sick or really need one. In fact, Canada ranks near the bottom when it comes to accessing primary care when it is urgently needed. In a survey of fourteen countries, Canada scored particularly poorly when it came to timely access to care but near the top when it comes to emergency department visits.

Other countries do much better. In the United Kingdom for example, over 70% of people are able to get same or next day care. That compares to over half of people in Ontario who reported that they were unable to obtain a timely appointment with their family doctor or a nurse when they got sick.

4. How do these clinics work?

Walk-in clinics are designed to be a safety valve in the system and to assist and support traditional family medicine practices. But they are considered to be private businesses that operate just outside the range of government oversight or supervision. All doctors who practice in walk-in clinics have to be registered and competent and they bill for services through the regular health insurance billing system for the health care services they provide.

They are run by individual doctors or groups of doctors who band together to offer this community based service. In some cases, private corporations have been formed to run the business side of walk-in clinics in various jurisdictions and provinces while the doctors look after the patients and their health care needs.

5. What services do they provide?

Walk-in clinics provide a range of health care services from basic medical services, such as check-ups, vaccinations, treatment for colds and flus as well as treatment for less severe physical injuries. There is often an x-ray or diagnostic centre close by where patients can be referred for testing for illnesses and broken bones. The principle behind walk-in clinics is provide immediate care and evaluation with referrals to other facilities and health care professionals as appropriate.

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