(Promoted by Stuart O’Neill from the article by County Doc and his subsequent answer in the comment section. Hope you don’t mind, Country Doc. This is a worthy subject.)
Since Stuart has goated me on, studies show that walk-in clinics are less expensive that an ER visit, but more expensive than a primary care office for the same diagnoses. Cost, however, is only a small part of my bias against this form of care.
The real issue with walk-in clinics, urgent care centers, retail clinics, or any other no appointment necessary model is that the care is by definition episodic and discontinuous. This is the antithesis of what health care should look like.
Walk-in clinics can treat asthma exacerbations, but not prevent the flare up from starting. Urgent care can treat a child’s cold, but the discussion with the parents about their need to quit smoking for the child’s sake looks much different coming from a stranger than it does from trusted primary care provider. But isn’t a cold just a cold?
In ideal primary care settings, every appointment, no matter how insignificant, can be an opportunity to check in with a patient and see how someone’s weight loss is going, or how is their depression doing. It is an opportunity to update immunizations, order mammograms, and check cholesterol.
Every visit to an urgent care center robs primary care and patients of these opportunities.Walk in clinics are a symptom of our health care problems and not a sign of a cure. It is this unappreciation of the value and the power of the continuity of care for the patient and the health care system as a whole that frustrates me so. When there are more primary care offices opening and urgent care centers are no longer necessary, then I’ll know that we are on the right path.