The Walk-In Clinic Dilemma: Deciding When and Where to Seek Emergency Care


The Walk-In Clinic Dilemma: Deciding When and Where to Seek Emergency Care

Young gynaecologist writing medical prescription in surgery at desk

It is an unfortunate fact of life that most of us, at some point in our lives, experience injury or illness that causes immediate alarm and need same-day medical care. When injury or illness occurs, a quick decision needs to be made about how serious it is, and how soon you need to seek care. Before you find yourself in the middle of a stressful medical situation, learn what your choices are, and what healthcare facilities in your area are best equipped to treat various minor emergency health conditions.

Primary Care Practitioner

Your primary care provider is your first-line of defense for sickness, pain or abnormality. Your primary care practitioner will keep you healthier as you age, and provide continuity of care throughout your lifetime. Choosing one means that you have someone who you can build a relationship with to help you monitor and manage chronic conditions, create health goals, prevent future illness, and expertly refer you to the right specialist when a condition is out of their scope.

In an emergency, a regular visit with this practitioner may not be an option. You can try reaching out to your primary care practitioner for a same day appointment, as some do have those appointments available. Western Washington Medical Group has two Walk-In Clinics for those times when you cannot get an appointment with your provider: Lake Serene Clinic in Lynnwood, and Snohomish Family Medicine in Snohomish.

Walk-In Clinics

The category, Walk-in Clinic, is a catch-all term that refers to any healthcare provider that allows you to be seen without an appointment. although at Lake Serene Clinic you can schedule ahead of time so you won’t have to wait when you get to the clinic. It should be noted that a Walk-in Clinic is a supplemental healthcare option, and should never be used as a replacement for a primary care provider although some primary care offices  also offer walk-in services.

Most Walk-In clinics have extended hours, making them a great option if you are experiencing emergency symptoms at odd hours of the day. And there is a minimal waiting period before you are able to receive care.

Walk-in clinics are not appropriate for all situations, however, you should visit your nearest walk-in clinic if you are experiencing the following symptoms:

  • Severe cold or flu
  • Upsetting earache
  • Unusual or extreme migraine
  • Low-grade fever
  • If you notice an abnormal rash.

In the case of injury, choose a walk-in  clinic if you have a minor injury such as:

  • Minor broken bone
  • Minor eye injury
  • Back pain
  • Minor cut or burn
  • A sprain

If you are experiencing pain or injury that is not life-threatening, a walk-in  is often the best emergency treatment facility. There are almost twice as many walk-in centers as there are emergency rooms in the United States. This means that you are more likely to have a walk-in that is closer and more convenient. Also, the average walk-in patient waits 15 minutes or less to see a provider. while emergency rooms report an average wait time of 24 minutes but can often take much longer. Humana reports that ERs are six times more expensive than walk-ins, so you can save money by avoiding the ER when it is reasonable. Reinforcing these points, a recent study shows that nearly 50 percent of diagnoses in an emergency room could have been treated at an urgent care or walk-in clinic at a fraction of the cost and wait time.

If you are experiencing pain or injury where the culmination of symptoms may be life-threatening, a walk-in facility is not the best option. In the case of serious pain or injury, visit your nearest emergency room or call 911.

Emergency Rooms

In the case of severe injury or illness, time is not a luxury, and it is imperative that you receive emergency treatment right away.  Emergency rooms are equipped and staffed for the most complex or critical needs, including life-threatening situations, and traumatic injuries. The emergency room is meant for medical conditions that require rapid or advanced treatments. Symptoms that are best treated in an emergency include:

  • Trouble breathing, or choking
  • Unusual or severe headache
  • Broken bones, especially if the bone is exposed
  • Any type of severe pain, especially in the abdomen or mid to lower back
  • Weakness in the body, dizziness or fainting
  • Sudden difficulty speaking or trouble understanding speech
  • High fever, especially in children
  • Ingesting poisonous substances or inhaling poisonous fumes
  • Altered mental state including thoughts of suicide,
  • Severe heart palpitations
  • Sudden testicular pain and swelling
  • Head or eye injuries
  • Vaginal bleeding during pregnancy
  • Overdose of drugs or alcohol
  • Coughing up or throwing up blood
  • Severe allergic reactions, especially in children
  • Bleeding that doesn’t stop
  • Severe and persistent vomiting or diarrhea
  • Serious burns
  • Seizure without previous epilepsy diagnosis

If your gut is telling you that it is an emergency, don’t hesitate. Call 911 or rush to an emergency room. It is better to be safe than sorry. You should call 911 immediately if your symptoms include:

  • Inability to breathe
  • Head injury, fainting, or extreme confusion,
  • Neck or spine injury
  • Electric shock via power or lightning
  • Severe burns
  • Chest pain and/or pressure
  • Seizure without previous epilepsy diagnosis

If you are experiencing any of the symptoms listed above requiring emergency room treatment, do not drive yourself to the emergency room. Ask an unimpaired driver, or call 911.

If you are ever unsure about going to walk-in clinic or emergency room, call 911. They will be able to talk you through the appropriate steps you should take in case of an emergency. In the meantime, save the following numbers in your phone so that you will be better prepared for an emergency.

Save the number of:

  • Your doctor
  • The Poison Control Center
  • The closest emergency room
  • The closest walk-in care clinic

Similar to the walk-in model (except you call ahead to reserve your spot), Western Washington Medical Group family medicine clinics offer same day medical care appointments for you and your family. Learn about same-day treatment options available to you.