Facing more than 110 million annual visits, emergency room doctors are busier than ever. While many of the patients they see are in need of urgent care, many of the visits aren’t for true emergencies. As such, wait times have grown in hospitals across the country, leading many to seek out more timely, convenient alternatives to the ER. It is no wonder the walk-in clinic has seen a remarkable resurgence as of late.
Since 2008, the number of urgent care facilities jumped from 8,000 to 9,300. In addition to long wait times at the ER, the growth of the walk-in clinic has been fueled by a steep reduction in the availability of primary care providers. According to a recent report, less than one-quarter of new doctors go into the primary care field. Because this record low in new doctors corresponds with a growing population, there is now a critical shortage of personal physicians. An inevitable result of this disparity is an increase in visits to both ERs and urgent care facilities.
The numbers make it crystal clear that more options are needed. One simple solution is to redirect people who do not have a medical emergency from the ER to the nearest walk-in clinic. The reason? ERs are not designed to treat patients with minor medical issues. The walk-in facility, on the other hand, is designed for people who require less urgent assistance but cannot see their primary physician, either because they are not at the office or are busy with other patients.
How Does It Work?
As the name suggests, a person simply walks into a clinic and asks to see a medical professional. Although different establishments have different rules, most will accept any patient as long as they have insurance or can afford to pay. There are also free facilities that offer their services without payment in some economically disadvantaged communities. Why should the average sick or injured person go to an urgent care facility instead of an ER? There are several good reasons.
First, and most important, the average clinic is much cheaper than the average emergency room. Why? Because ERs provide specialized treatment that requires expensive equipment and the top doctors in the field. The same is not true of the average clinic. Since most of their patients have only minor medical issues, these facilities do not need state-of-the-art tools or doctors with advanced training in emergency medicine. As a result, the average bill is much smaller than what you’d get at the ER. There are also much shorter wait times, and, since most of these facilities are located in residential communities, they are often much closer than the nearest hospital.
At the end of the day, the walk-in clinic provides immediate treatment for people who do not have access to a personal physician or cannot afford the high cost of an emergency room visit.
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