Clinics: walk right in

If worries about the quality of care keep you from going to a walk-in clinic when you’re unable to get an appointment with your family doctor, a reassuring new study has found walk-ins may be a good option.

Same amount of patient time
Paul Williams, professor of health policy, management and evaluation at the University of Toronto and lead researcher on the study, looked at 728 surveys of primary care physicians in Ontario that compared physicians working in clinics to those with solo or group practices. The researchers found that walk-in clinic doctors and traditional physicians spend the same amount of time, 12 minutes, with their patients. And walk-in clinic doctors reported high levels of personal satisfaction with certain aspects of their work including the availability of consultants, the number of support staff, hours worked and income and vacation coverage.

An earlier study conducted at the University of Western Ontario, published in April 2002, explored physicians’ perspectives on the role and impact of walk-in clinics in Ontario’s health care system.

“For nearly two decades, North Americans have debated the impact owalk-in clinics on primary health care delivery,” said lead investigator Judith Belle Brown, professor in the Centre for Studies in Family Medicine in Western’s Faculty of Medicine and Dentistry. “It used to be that family practice and emergency medicine covered the full spectrum of primary health care in Ontario, but now we see a gap in that service that is being filled by the convenience of after-hours, no-appointment-necessary establishments.”

Some participants admonished patient demand for convenient and immediate care by using a fast food industry analogy. One participant referred to walk-in patient attitudes as a “doc in the box” approach to healthcare. Participants also suggested patients’ demands for convenience, in addition to attitudes about anonymity and a disregard for continuity of care, perpetuate walk-in clinic use

Primary care physicians give a thumbs up
However, in the Toronto study, Williams and his fellow researchers found “The negative perceptions of walk-in clinics do not appear to be confirmed by the practicing physicians we surveyed. In fact, our research demonstrated that primary care physicians themselves judge the care provided in walk-in clinics to be quite comparable to that of family practices.”