Why Walk–in Medical Clinics Provide a Good Alternative

According to a recent Harris Poll, walk-in medical clinics located in pharmacies, shopping malls, office parks and workplaces are getting more and more popular with health care consumers. The poll reported that of the 3,000 adults surveyed online, 27% said they have used walk-in retail or work based clinics in the past two years. That number is up 7 percent from a poll conducted in 2008.

Feedback from these patients indicates that, for the most part, patients are satisfied with the care they are receiving.

People generally visit the walk-in clinic for basic health services related to colds, sore throats, minor cuts, wounds, and general immunizations. Many clinics offer free screening tests for diabetes and cholesterol. As a result, patients have begun to use the clinics for managing their chronic conditions such as hypertension, asthma and diabetes, to check their blood pressure, blood sugar, and cholesterol.

The main reason why people choose walk-in clinics is convenience and affordability. Generally walk-in clinics do not require an appointment, are conveniently located, involve only a short wait time, are open evenings and weekends, even 24 hours, and are affordable. Many health insurance plans are now covering the cost of such visits. Even if they do not, the charges are generally in the range of an individual’s co-payment.

Most walk-in clinics are staffed by licensed nurse practitioners who have the training and authority to diagnose standard illness and prescribe medication. The care they deliver is consistent and professional.

We know that there is a severe shortage of primary care physicians in the United States. The latest prediction from the Association of American Medical Colleges is that in 2015 there will be 62,900 fewer doctors in the U.S. than are needed just to provide basic health services to the population. By 2020 it is expected that there will be a shortfall of 90,000 physicians. The implementation of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act which extends insurance coverage to over 3 million individuals, who are currently uninsured, will aggravate this physician shortage.

What happens to this large percentage of Americans who do not have easy access to health care providers? They generally rush to the ED for everything from a bad cold to cardiac arrest. When we add the shortage of available primary care physicians to the overburdened emergency departments, we can see why these walk-in clinics serve a vital need and will help to reduce the hassle as well as cost of care for all of us.

Unfortunately, patients’ use of walk-in clinics reinforces a large gap in the chain of care – proper communication between all the members of an individual patients’ health care team. These clinics do not have access to a patient’s digital health record and the patients themselves are often hesitant to reveal who their primary physician is. They also forget to ask that a report of what care was given in the clinic be sent to the PCP. As a result the patient’s regular physician has no way of knowing what was wrong and how it was treated. The fault lies with both patients and physicians.

Patients have to be more diligent about insuring that every health care professional who is treating them is apprised about all of the care that they have received. The medical establishment and PCPs in particular, have got to be more open to establishing channels of communication with everyone that their patients see to insure that there is ample opportunity for open communication and coordination of care.


Posted in: policy issues | reforming hc





13 Responses to “Why Walk–in Medical Clinics Provide a Good Alternative”

  1. Mary Saunders says:

    Because these clinics are on the traffic pattern of patients (don’t like this word patient: we need another), continuity of care may be enhanced. In addition, individuals choose to go to them, rather than being instructed where to go by a plan. If a nurse has more time to spend, again, there is opportunity for greater continuity and greater learning, agency, and responsibility on the part of the treated person. There is something reassuring about getting to be in one’s own neighborhood when one is feeling challenged.

  2. David Lawrance says:

    I kind of get it but I don’t get it. Why would one use any medical service, convenient care or otherwise, if one knew that they had a cold? The most obvious reason to me that I don’t know know if I have a cold or something worse.

    A cold is more of a syndrome than it is a distinct etiologic illness… low grade fever, headaches, body aches initially followed by head congestion, sore throat, and finally a cough, as the fever disappears after 2 or 3 days.

    A lot of what determines I know is a teachable skill, based upon history and less upon exam. A lot of office time is consumed seeing people with colds. I appreciate the business, but there is not much to offer that isn’t over-the-counter. A lot of health dollar resources are spent on those evaluations.

  3. Mary Saunders says:

    It depends on what the walk-in clinic is and how particular persons respond to different modes of care. I respond well to acupuncture and TCM, as an example (anecdote/case study).

    If I know from experience that I get relief, why would I not go, if I can afford to?

    An M.D. I know, board-certified in preventive medicine, got qualified to do acupuncture to reduce side effects in his arthritis patients who cannot take standard NSAIDs. I am in this category, possibly from endocrine-disruption over-load, also a recent topic of interest.

    My preferred name for the new/old cooperative medicine that treats human beings as individuals is Functional Medicine. My definition of it would be taking baselines and then working as a team to improve function, carefully respecting the individual genomes and individual emotional and belief systems of individual persons.

    Even if an initial improvement is in attitude–that can be a first and important step to wellness. In my interpretation of Chinese medicine, an improvement in attitude might be called an improvement in mind or in spirit, and this is necessary for healing, above improvements in chi or jing, which are other forms of energy in a living body.

    I can understand how a practitioner of a particular belief system could get into a mindset that does not give as much credence to agency and free will of persons seeking better health and a need to cooperate with other practitioners as I would like. It’s the everything-is-a-nail-to-a-hammer syndrome, from my point of view.

    I am determined to see improvement in respect for ancient human knowledge in my lifetime, though I am almost 63.

    I may not get there an an individual, to paraphrase Martin Luther King, Jr.

    Nonetheless, a recent experience with Generations of Knowledge, a joint project with the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry, the NSF, NASA, UC-Berkeley, the Exploratorium, and Hawaiian and Dine people, has contributed to my hopeful state of mind.

    To paraphrase Isabelle Hawkins, Ph.D., from the project I participated with, I have come to see modern science as a small sphere inside a larger sphere of ancient knowledge. tested over a longer period than the average clinical trial of recent times.

    I hope to see more understanding of this view, soon. We need this change for reasons of health of persons and health of Earth.

  4. Jeff Madison says:

    I appreciate your advice on how a walk in clinic provides a convenient location and is usually open later. It seems that with little things like colds and minor injuries you would want somewhere easily accessible and able to offer you good care. My wife and I recently moved, we’ll have to find a clinic in our area for the benefit of our children when they have minor accidents.

  5. I agree that convenience is definitely a good reason to visit a walk-in clinic. When I get a cold, I generally don’t feel like making an appointment and waiting a long time. However, if I were to see a health clinic, I would be much more likely to talk to a doctor. I’ll have to check my insurance and ask if they cover this option.

  6. Luke Smith says:

    I had no idea that walk-in medical clinics are so popular with 3,000 adults using them. I can see why with them being in malls, or office parks, and other places like that it is probably easier for people that are busy. I probably would also do that if there was one so close to me.

  7. Alise Harper says:

    I like how you mention medical clinics are convenient and affordable. I am looking for a good walk-in clinic for my families basic needs. I will definitely look into the local medical clinics. Thanks for the information!

    • Interesting that you say you’re *looking* for one, when the URL you attached IS such a clinic. So, just to prevent the chance that this was spam, I removed the URL, and in case it’s not, your comment’s still intact. :)

  8. Maggie Allen says:

    It is so awesome that there are walk-in medical clinics available for people who don’t have a primary care physician. My husband and I just moved to a new area last month, and we still haven’t found a doctor for us to visit. Maybe we will try visiting a medical clinic, and see if we like the doctors there. That could be a great alternative until we find the right doctor!

    • Maggie, what an astounding coincidence – your message is very much like the previous one, and you too HAPPEN to say you’re LOOKING for one, when the URL you posted HAPPENS to be FOR a walk-in clinic. You wouldn’t be a covert crooked black-hat marketer, would you? :-) Just a little bit?

  9. You mentioned that of 3,000 adults surveyed online, 27% said they have used walk-in retail or work-based clinics in the past two years. Do most physicians refer their patients to these walk-in clinics when they can’t be seen right away? My family and I went on a long road trip and when we came back my daughter got very sick. Finding one of these clinics may be the best option for her.

    • Nancy Finn says:


      Most physicians do not want to refer their patients to walk-in clinics. They prefer that they wait to see them for an appointment. However, the point I make is that it is often impractical to wait and these walk-in clinics provide a needed alternative for basic health services, particularly during weekend and evening hours. and at a cost to the patient that is often similar to a typical co-pay to see their primary care physician. The research on the walk-in clinics has shown that the healthcare professionals at these facilities are well qualified and communicate back to the primary care physician so that their is coordination and continuity of care.

  10. Dean S. says:

    I am a fan of walk-in clinics, however I find that having a regular family physician looking after you, is a lot more efficient because the doctor would obviously be more familiar with your medical history on an ongoing basis.

Leave a Reply