Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Walk In Clinic Etiquette

Cold and flu season always brings more people to the doctor or health clinic.  The pure volume can be overwhelming for any clinic, scheduled or walk in, but the nature of walk in clinics makes the volume unpredictable.   Sometimes no one in walks in, other times several come at once.  Walk in clinics are wonderful for the overall rapidness at which one can be seen, but how can you help streamline the process?
walk in, urgent care, after hours, fever, advice, illness

1.  Write down symptoms.  It sounds crazy to write down things since you know your child better than anyone, but if your child is sick you are probably sleep deprived and might forget important details.  Writing things down helps everyone summarize what is going on and get facts straight.  Very often the diagnosis lies in the history, and if the person bringing the child in does not know symptoms well, it is difficult to make a proper diagnosis.

2.  Expect to be seen for one acute problem.  Illnesses typically have more than one symptom, but they are a single illness.  It is appropriate to bring a child in for multiple symptoms, such as cough, fever, and sore throat.  It is not appropriate to bring them in for those issues as well as a wart and headache of 3 months off and on.

The nature of walk in clinics is that they move rapidly.  The number of patients checking in at any given time can be large, so each visit must be quick.  If you need more time with a provider, schedule an appointment.

3.  Do not attempt to get care for a chronic issue.  Chronic issues are always best managed by your Primary Care Provider (PCP).  This does not include sudden changes to a condition, such as wheezing in an asthmatic.  Your child can go to the walk in for the wheezing, but should follow up with the PCP with a scheduled appointment to discuss any changes needed to the daily medication regimen (Action Plan) to prevent further wheezing.  This is especially important if you went to another urgent care or ER for initial treatment so that your doctor knows about the recent exacerbation of a chronic issue.

4.  Do not add additional children to the visit. Many parents bring additional kids to the visit and ask if we can "just take a peek" in their ears. If you want them seen, check them in too.  Again, walk in clinics move quickly and the "quick" peek takes longer because the child is running around the room or fighting the exam.  The quick peek also does not allow for documentation of findings in the medical record, which might be helpful in the future.

5.  Have your insurance card and copayment ready at check in.  Streamline checking in by having everything ready.  It is amazing to me how many people must return to their car for their wallet.

6.  Try to bring only the child who is being seen.  It is difficult to focus on one sick child when another is running around the room, falling off the exam table, or constantly asking questions.  This applies to scheduled as well as walk in visits.  I know this becomes a childcare issue, but it can really help focus on the child being seen.

7. Bring medications your child has recently taken.  Often parents have tried treatments at home, but are not sure what was in the bottle.  Bringing all medications (prescription and over the counter) and supplements helps us advise on correct dosage and use of the medications.

8.  Go to a walk in clinic at your regular doctor's office if available.  I know not all doctor's offices have walk in hours and most are not open all night long, but most walk in type visits are not emergent, they can wait until the next business day.  Treating symptoms with home remedies is quite acceptable for most illnesses for a couple days.  This might even be beneficial to improve the immune system's ability to fight illnesses and to see how the symptoms change over time. Some kids are brought in at the first sign of fever, and look normal on exam, only to develop cough and earache over the next few days. When the symptoms change, so might the exam and treatments!

The benefits to going to your regular doctor's office to see your PCP or another provider with access to your child's medical record are many.  The record has your child's immunization history,  previous drug reactions, any underlying illnesses or frequency of illnesses (as long as you use them exclusively), as well as any other pertinent information.  Primary Care Providers and their staff also know your family and that alone can help!

Some walk in centers limit services or ages of patients.  The provider at the clinic may or may not have adequate training in pediatrics, and they often do not have others around who can help if a problem arises that is out of their comfort zone.   If a baby is crying, the eardrum gets red, but isn't necessarily infected.  A provider without a lot of experience will often err on calling it an ear infection. Giving a prescription for an antibiotic makes parents happy, regardless if it is necessary.  Better satisfaction scores for the clinic.  Faster turn around time since it takes longer to explain how to treat a cold than it does to write a quick script.  Everyone's happy, but antibiotics are overused.   They also do not offer follow up of issues to see if there is improvement.  They do not take phone calls if there is a followup related question.  You must call your PCP, but if we haven't seen the child for the issue, we are unable to give appropriate advice. 

There are gaps in care even at urgent cares where there is a pediatrician or midlevel provider with extensive pediatric training (there is more than one option in this area).  They do not know your child's full medical background and do not update your child's health record in the medical home.  Following in one office allows us to see the chronicity or recurrence risk of an issue.  If your child goes multiple places for every sore throat, the PCP only sees him for well visits and no one recognizes that a tonsillectomy might be beneficial. 

9.  Please don't use walk in clinics to have health forms filled out.  I know it is tempting to get a quick physical just to have the sports form or work physical signed, but this breaks the concept of a medical home.  Your regular doctor doesn't get to see you for a comprehensive visit, reviewing growth, development, safety, immunization status, and more. We lose the opportunity to share what has happened in the past year and continue our relationship.   If the medical home does all the well visits and vaccines, we have up to date records and can update as needed.  Some kids have missed school because vaccines were missed and they can't return until they get them.  Others have gotten extra doses of vaccines because a record of a shot was missing and parents can't remember where they got the vaccine.  We request a well visit yearly (after age 2) within the medical home.  If in need of a well visit, please call the office to schedule! 


  1. Just one update to this: It is now recommended to do a well visit at 30 months, then 3 years, and then yearly following.

  2. Hi there! great post. Thanks for sharing a very interesting and informative content, it is a big help to me and to others as well, keep it up!

    walk in clinic orange county

    1. Thanks! If you have any topics you'd like to see covered, let me know!