In Canada, walk-in clinics are the subject of hot debate, says Paul Williams, professor of health policy, management and evaluation at U of T and lead author of a recent paper in Family Practice. While these clinics give patients easier access, they've been criticized as "fast-food medicine" offering inferior care and opportunities for overuse by patients.
However, Williams and his fellow researchers found little evidence to support these claims. "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."
Williams and his colleagues analyzed the results of a 1998 survey of 728 primary care doctors in Ontario that compared physicians working in walk-in clinics to those in solo or group family practices. They found that the amount of time walk-in clinic physicians spend with patients - an average of about 12 minutes - was the same as traditional family practitioners. While walk-in clinic doctors reported seeing more people who were not regular patients or who did not have appointments, they also reported relatively high levels of personal satisfaction with key aspects of their work such as availability of consultants, levels of support staff, hours, income and vacation coverage.
This study is part of a larger research project on walk-in clinics. Support for the research was provided by the Physicians' Services Incorporated Foundation.