What Is a Walk-In Clinic?

By Katharine Paljug  @YourCareE
September 13, 2023
What Is a Walk-In Clinic?

Walk-in clinics are usually staffed by nurses or physician’s assistants, rather than doctors, and offer a quick alternative to the family doctor's office.

Walk-in clinics, also known as convenient care, are healthcare providers that don’t require appointments. They generally treat non-emergency illnesses and injuries, as well as providing some lab tests, health screenings, and immunizations.

The most common type of convenient care clinics, known as retail clinics, are available through pharmacies and grocery stores. Other clinics are run by health organizations or non-profits, serve specific populations like the homeless or uninsured, or work as an after-hours supplement to regular physicians’ offices.

Regardless of who runs them, walk-in clinics are usually staffed by nurses or physician’s assistants, rather than doctors. They all focus on providing basic medical services when your primary care doctor is unavailable or too expensive.


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Services at a walk-in clinic

Clinics provide immediate care for injuries or illnesses that are not emergencies. Many offer prescriptions, while those that cannot will often refer you to a physician or suggest over-the-counter remedies.

Non-emergency illnesses include:

Clinics can also treat injuries such as sprains, bruising, animal bites, and minor burns. Most offer vaccinations, such as flu or tetanus shots.

Some convenient care clinics perform screenings for blood pressure and pregnancy, although they will generally refer you to a doctor for treatment. They also provide physical assessments for work or school.

Clinics do not care for:

  • Broken bones
  • Lacerations
  • Serious illness
  • Severe pain
  • Chronic conditions
  • Physical trauma
  • Life-threatening emergencies

You should visit a primary care physician, urgent care center, or emergency room for those conditions.

Pros and cons of a walk-in clinic

Walk-in clinics offer two primary benefits: convenience and cost.

You can visit a clinic as soon as you experience symptoms, rather than waiting for an opening in your primary care doctor’s schedule. Because clinics do not take appointments, patients are seen on a first-come, first-serve basis. Most appointments take 15 to 20 minutes, including wait time.

Many clinics are open during early mornings, weekends, and evenings, when a traditional doctor’s office would be closed. This can make it easier for patients to receive immediate care without taking time off from work or school.

Initial services at clinics are often less expensive than a regular appointment at a doctor’s office and much cheaper than a visit to an emergency room. The cost of a visit is usually $50 to $75, with additional lab tests or vaccinations running $30 to $50 each.

A visit that could cost $110 at a convenient care center might cost $156 at an urgent care center, $166 at a primary physician’s office, or upwards of $500 at an emergency room. If you have an insurance plan with a high deductible, or no insurance at all, a walk-in clinic can help you save money on basic care.

Drawbacks to using convenient care services

You can end up paying much higher costs if your insurance does not cover your visit. If you accidentally stop into an out-of-network clinic, you may find yourself with a much larger bill, while, depending on your health insurance, you would only be responsible for a $10 to $50 co-pay at your doctor’s office.

Many family physicians also worry that walk-in clinics are eroding the relationship between doctors and their patients, according to one study. As more and more patients turn to convenient care options, rather than doctors, chronic conditions and other major health problems could go undiagnosed.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that children should always see their regular doctor for even minor illnesses and injuries, as they can often be a sign of, or lead to, larger underlying problems.

For both adults and children, convenient care clinics often focus on immediate solutions, rather than lifestyle changes or long-term treatment options that your regular doctor might suggest to manage your health.

How to find a walk-in clinic

If you decide that a walk-in clinic is the best option for your care, you will likely be able to find several options nearby.

Many large drugstore chains now have retail clinics, including CVS and Walgreens. Big box stores, such as Wal-Mart and Target, often offer basic medical services, as do some grocery stores. You can call the location closest to you or search online to find out whether they have an on-site clinic and what services it provides.

Depending on where you live, hospitals or nonprofit organizations may staff clinics during non-business hours. You may have to call or search online to find one close by.


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September 13, 2023

Reviewed By:  

Janet O’Dell, RN