Visiting a Walk-In Clinic: Understanding the Impact of this Choice

When a medical issue arises, you have choices. These choices include:

  • visiting your own family physician, namely, Dr. Andrew Chou;
  • seeing another Magenta Health physician after-hours;
  • contacting your own family physician for advice;
  • visiting a walk-in clinic.

No one choice is right for every situation; each has its own benefits and drawbacks. This discussion is intended to help patients understand the following in order to make an informed choice:

  • the immediate impact of visiting a walk-in clinic;
  • how your family physician works to minimize the use of walk-in clinics;
  • how your relationship with your family physician might change if you elect to frequent walk-in clinics.

Notably, nothing in this discussion should affect your decision to visit a hospital emergency room or call 9-1-1 in emergency situations. Please note that the issues discussed below are specific to the use of walk-in clinics only.

The Immediate Impact of Visiting a Walk-In Clinic

It’s largely understood that the quality of care at a walk-in is not always comparable to seeing your own family doctor. Regardless of skill and experience, a walk-in physician simply can’t know you or your medical history, what medications and dosages you are on, nor do they have access to your medical records. Moreover, a gap is created in your medical records since we don’t have access to the details of treatments and tests you receive elsewhere, which may have an impact down the road.

A second factor is that your physician will be personally penalized by the Ontario government between $33 and $75 each time you visit a walk-in clinic. When taken in combination with how your physician is typically compensated, once you visit a walk-in clinic more than 1 to 2 times in a given year, your doctor may be paying out of pocket to have you as a patient.  

Put another way, for a 30 year old male who sees his family physician a few times in a year to discuss medical concerns or for a check-up, but also visits a walk-in twice because of a cough, his physician’s net compensation for the year would be negative.

How your Family Physician Tries to Help

In view of the above, it should be clear that your family physician has a strong professional and financial incentive to help patients minimize the use of walk-ins.  For their part, your Magenta Health physician has taken a number of steps with this in mind:

  • Last Minute Appointments: Every day that your physician is working in clinic, a number of daytime appointments are made available that cannot be booked until 24-48 hours in advance. These are intended to be available for urgent medical issues.
  • After-Hours Clinics: Your physician collaborates with colleagues to offer all patients evening and weekend appointments for urgent issues.
  • Vacation Coverage: When your physician is away from the clinic (e.g. educational conferences, vacation), colleagues will dedicate a similar number of appointments to the absent physician's patients. 
  • Remote Care: Your physician corresponds with patients electronically to answer questions and to fulfill requests.
  • Hours: Your physician attempts to offer a diverse range of appointment timeslots to meet the needs of different patients.
  • Online Scheduling: Patients can schedule any available appointment 24/7, and cancelled appointments are immediately made available to other patients.

How your Relationship Might Change

We understand that some patients are comfortable with the care received at walk-ins and will elect to frequent walk-in clinics despite the above. Accordingly, a last factor to be aware of is that because of the severity of the financial penalty that is imposed on your family doctor each time you visit a walk-in, your family doctor is entitled to change the way that he or she is compensated for having you as a patient.

In particular, instead of being compensated a fixed amount for having you as a patient generally (but subject to penalties if you go to a walk-in), your physician can elect to be compensated only when they see you in the clinic in person. In this situation, he or she would not be subject to any penalties for your walk-in clinic use. The Ontario government sends your physician monthly reports detailing walk-in use by every patient in order to facilitate this decision.

Why is this important to you? If your family doctor makes this change for you, you will no longer have free access to remote medical care (e.g. answering medical questions by email). Instead, you will need to always visit the clinic in person to meet with your physician should you have any questions or concerns, including, for example, obtaining the results of lab work or tests. Your access to after-hours clinics may be restricted or removed (i.e. last-minute appointments with any Magenta Health physician).

Your physician is also subject to a hard cap imposed by the Ontario Government in terms of how much care can be provided to patients under this compensation model. Should your physician approach this hard cap, there is a possibility that your physician will no longer be able to provide you with care, and you will need to find another family physician.

Frankly, this is not how your physician prefers to practice but the financial penalties associated with walk-in use are so severe that this change must sometimes be made; accordingly, kindly keep these considerations in mind when deciding how best to obtain medical care.

One final message is to emphasize that your physician is happy to have you as a patient and to continue to provide care for you regardless. These are merely administrative considerations that unfortunately impact your physician's ability to provide care via certain communication mediums.

As always, please let us know should there be any questions. If you have a moment, we'd also appreciate finding out if you found this discussion helpful:

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