Should I Go to The Hospital or Walk-In Clinic?

If you’ve been paying attention to the news for the last two years, you’ll know that hospitals are overwhelmed. The pandemic has taken a toll on the entire healthcare system, and they’re still just trying to keep up. So, though you should never avoid seeking medical attention when needed, there are times when the hospital isn’t the right choice. “Should I go to the hospital or walk-in clinic?” is a great question. And we can all do our part to lessen the stress that our healthcare workers face by knowing the difference. Let’s look at some examples. 

What’s the Difference between Walk-In Clinics and Emergency?

Many people tend to think that these two entities are the same. However, they are markedly different and offer distinct levels of care and services. The most important thing to understand is that there are things that the walk-in clinic can’t handle. They aren’t as heavily equipped as a hospital, and if you feel that you are in danger of life or limb, always go to the emergency room. 

The Walk-In Clinic

Walk-in clinics may also be known as urgent care facilities. Walk-in clinics are designed for things that you would usually see your primary care provider for but, for some reason, cannot. With a distinct lack of primary care providers currently, it can be challenging to get appointments or actually get a primary care provider at all. These clinics operate without appointments. It does not have to be an emergency or even an urgent medical problem for an appointment at the walk-in clinic. Walk-in clinic doctors are just as qualified and offer the same level of duty of care as primary care physicians. 

One of the main reasons walk-in clinics were created was to help get patients into medical care faster for important things but not emergencies. If you have a health card in Canada, your services will be covered just like they would when seeing your primary doctor. However, these services are also available for those who do not have a health card, for instance, travelers. These patients can expect to pay anywhere from $50 to $150 for their visit. This offers an affordable option for visiting tourists or business travelers on the chance they get hurt or ill while away from home. 

The Emergency Department

Emergency departments are for precisely what they sound like an acute emergency. Things like trouble breathing, chest pains, severe bleeding are all considered immediate issues. They should be dealt with in an emergency department. While knowing that they’ve found that nearly one in four emergency room visits should have been easily handled at a walk-in clinic. 

The emergency department has equipment and services that the walk-in clinic does not. For instance, they often have much higher-level imaging equipment, like CT scans and MRIs. They also generally have more options for other types of diagnostics. Like the walk-in, there is no appointment for an emergency room visit. However, wait times are often long, and people are seen in order of importance of their medical condition. 

Sprains, Pains, and Aches: ER vs. Walk-In

Accidents happen, unfortunately, more often than most of us would like. With winter setting in and the cold and wet weather, falls are among the most common injuries. Falls can be extremely dangerous and often need medical attention, but this is an excellent example to show the importance of the diverse types of medical services. 

Breaks Vs. Sprains

A significant fall can be dangerous, especially for those getting along in years. Head injuries from a hard fall, especially if the injured party loses consciousness, should be seen at the emergency department due to the risk involved. A broken bone, like a hip, is another time you should seek emergency medical attention. These injuries can be serious and should be considered an emergency. The emergency department is more equipped to deal with a badly broken bone. They’ll be able to set and cast it if necessary. They’ll also have more access to the required diagnostics to determine the severity of the break. 

However, there are times when a fall doesn’t need to be an emergency room visit. For example, slipping and twisting an ankle usually leads to a sprain. Though you may need to seek medical attention to ensure nothing is broken, this would be a suitable time to choose the walk-in services over the emergency department. 

Types of Pain

Pain can be scary and often is the thing that forces someone to finally take the step to get medical attention at all. However, it can be difficult to determine when that pain is an emergency and when it’s not. Anything extreme and sudden is time to go into the emergency room. 

Chest pain or tightness and discomfort are at the top of the list of reasons to go to the emergency room. Because this can be a symptom of life-threatening medical problems like heart attacks or pulmonary embolism. 

On the other hand, if you’re just feeling crummy or have some sinus pain that’s been steadily getting worse, that’s when the walk-in clinic is the better choice. These things usually indicate the flu or a sinus infection. Urgent care facilities are the perfect choice for a minor sinus or ear infection when you can’t get an appointment with a primary care provider. 

Changes During Covid for Walk-In Clinics

Wearing a mask is more than recommended at any medical appointment. Most walk-in clinics have small waiting rooms that can often be crowded, and it’s most likely that they will require a mask before allowing you to enter. In addition, it’s highly plausible that someone could have covid while thinking it is something else and seeking medical attention. So be sure to take all recommended precautions and keep your distance from other waiting patients. 

Walk-in clinics offer quicker access to the same type of treatment that you would get with a primary care provider. Going to the walk-in rather than heading straight to the ER for non-life-threatening medical problems can help ease some of the current strain on our medical professionals. The doctors, nurses, and staff are grateful for even the slightest reprieve. 

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