The emerging roles of Canadian Walk-in clinics

Walk-in clinics

The Canadian healthcare system is one of the most advanced in the world. Nearly every American has at one point had to interact with the healthcare system in America only to realize that despite being the world’s best economy; the American healthcare system lags behind its neighbour’s.

Walk-in clinics

Canada retains a mixture of public/privately funded healthcare system that benefits from a well run and well-funded healthcare program. Therefore the public expects prioritized service in public healthcare systems that are markedly better than those in other advanced countries such as the United States.

Canada has two types of walk-in clinics:

  • A typical walk-in centre

This functions as an extended-hour clinic. This type of clinic has extended opening hours and has few connections to local doctors. This, therefore, means that patients walk into the hospital much as they walk into any other business establishment, and after seeking medical care their interaction with the doctor ends. The patient’s medical records are not kept in any file.

  • Walk-in clinic with after-hours services.

After-hour walk-in services have stronger links to family practitioners as they serve as a bridge between family physicians and their patients when the patients are unable to see the physician at odd hours. Where this link is established the after-hour services will have a file record of the patient ready just in case the patient comes in. These also have insurance services tied in, and therefore are more structured than the other walk-in clinics.

Walk-in clinics versus traditional hospitals

One of the most progressive aspects of the Canadian healthcare system is the Walk clinics that are common all across the country. To understand why walk-in clinics have become so important in Canada, it is crucial to investigate the differences between walk-in clinics and traditional hospitals.

 First and foremost, Walk-in clinics are clinics that people can simply walk in without the need for an appointment. Most other hospitals may function as walk-in clinics but these walk-in services are reserved for urgent care services. Therefore, any emergency qualifies as a walk-in service.

Walk-in clinics do not necessarily have to be emergencies, since a simple consultation in other countries such as the United States, typically requires a booking before the visit.

One other feature of walk-in clinics is the fact that they are normally staffed by nurse practitioners and physician assistants as compared to hospitals which normally have to have doctors on call at any given time. Therefore, walk-in clinics reduce the burden on hospitals arising from fewer doctors and serve the larger population for small ailments and conditions that are not life-threatening.

The main focus for walk-in clinics is to ensure the patients/clients have faster access to medical services in non-emergency cases, and therefore they normally have a pharmacy close by to provide faster purchase of over-the-counter medication to patients. There will always be a doctor or medical professional certified to write prescriptions in Walk-in clinics. Patients are assured of quality treatment and healthcare in these clinics.

Navigating the insurance minefield with walk-in clinics

A large percentage of the population remains uninsured throughout North America. Canada is not an exception. The large number of immigrants moving into Canada requires good healthcare services, and since most remain uninsured, their only option remains walk-in clinics.

These clinics do not require any insurance and patients can simply pay cash for medication or consultation. Patients receive care for non-threatening medical conditions and they can simply get a prescription and pay cash at any pharmacy in the clinic’s vicinity or around the patient’s home.

Canada’s Walk-in clinics are doctor-led rather than nurse-led. This means that unlike in the UK, Canada’s walk-in centres can take on a varying degree of complex medical conditions and situations. For this reason, they are markedly well adept at handling emergency care as well as non-threatening medical conditions.

In the United Kingdom, the walk-in clinics are nurse-led, which means they have internal pharmacies for dispensing medicine. This format does not require prescriptions, but in the Canadian system, though there are nurses in each clinic, they report to a head doctor who is always on call.

Continuity of care

Fragmentation of care is one of the major disadvantages of walk-in clinics. Since many walk-in clinics are frequented by patients who are below 35 years, and with minimal and non-complex medical conditions, they rarely report back to their family physicians. Family physicians hold the medical history of patients and therefore treatment information is very crucial, especially where such treatment was rendered in a walk-in clinic.

In Canada, since the walk-in clinics are doctor-led, there is a higher continuity of care as compared to the United States or even in the UK. This is because, doctors have a higher duty towards each other and this duty extends to family care physicians, not only as a matter of professional courtesy but also as a matter of legality.

A doctor’s duty of care is higher than that of a nurse and therefore most doctors will first want to know whether the patient has a family physician and thereafter inform the family physician of any treatment they have given to the patient. In some cases, the walk-in doctor will go ahead and consult with the family physician before treating the patient.

Future of walk-in clinics

Despite Canada’s changing healthcare regulatory framework, especially with the introduction of a new capitation payment system, the future of walk-in clinics requires a more integrated approach. This integration can only come about through ensuring that family care practice is tied into walk-in services thereby improving the quality of services as well as continuity of care.

The importance of walk-in clinics cannot be underrated as population pressure will undoubtedly lead to deteriorating healthcare services. The only way to address this vacuum in quality care is to fund more walk-in centres and improve access to insurance services to citizens and non-citizens alike.

Where both private and public funding reaches walk-in services, then it would unilaterally improve access to healthcare services for anyone accessing healthcare services in Canada.

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