Walk-in clinics give patients any-time alternatives to traditional doctors

BY HILLARY S. MEEKS
http://www.visaliatimesdelta.com

If it seems like a cold always strikes on a Friday night, or the doctor’s office doesn’t have any space for another three weeks, there is a medical alternative that is quickly becoming more popular in Tulare County: walk-in clinics.

Because these offices usually have extended hours and are open on weekends, many customers have found they can get seen at a walk-in much faster than trying to make an appointment ahead of time at their regular primary care physician office.

“I’m kind of in-between doctors, so this is convenient for me,” said 21-year-old Laura Christensen of Visalia as she waited at the Visalia Walk-In Clinic on Caldwell Avenue. “You can just drop what you’re doing and come in when you can, not when they can fit you in.”

Which is exactly the point of a walk-in clinic, said Dr. Boyd Johnson of Visalia Walk-In, the oldest walk-in in town — it was established in 1986. He said a plus side of walk-ins is that the waiting time is usually 30 minutes or less.

Walk-ins are also becoming a necessity in Tulare County because of a primary-care-physician shortage, Johnson said.

“I think walk-in clinics are attractive to a lot of people, especially in this area, because it’s hard to get a primary care doctor, for one,” he said. “And some people are left out of medical coverage.”

Those who don’t have medical coverage can pay cash, and many do, said physician assistant Juan Contreras, of Family Wellness Center and Walk-in Clinic in Tulare on Cherry Street.

“We’re much cheaper than going to the emergency room,” he explained.

One of the extra benefits of walk-in clinics is that they do tend to relieve congestion in the emergency department, a fact verified by Dan Allain, director of emergency and critical care at Kaweah Delta Medical Center. The Center’s own walk-in clinic, Kaweah Delta Urgent Care, extended its hours to Saturday and Sunday to accommodate patients and to help with Emergency Department overflow.

“We’re now averaging 200 patients a day in the emergency department, as to where six years ago when I started, we averaged 150, and I thought we were busy,” Allain said.

He said the packed ER is a result of primary health-care access shortages, as most clients who visit Kaweah Delta Urgent Care tell him they either couldn’t get an appointment with their doctor or couldn’t find a doctor at all.

Walk-ins as primary care

While most of the clinics don’t function as primary health care, many find some customers do keep coming back for the regular check-ups and minor illnesses.

Nadine Hielscher, 49, of Hanford has been a regular at Premier Walk-In Clinic on West Cypress Avenue in Visalia since it opened.

“On a scale of 1 to 10, they’re a 20,” she said. “They’re always available and your wait time is minimal — like under five minutes.”

She said her visits at Premier have been superior to her previous experience at a primary care doctor’s office.

There, she had hour-long waits and it was always difficult to get last-minute appointments.

While people such as Hielscher make up a small portion of Premier’s clientele, office manager Cindy Douglass said at least a third pop in once.

“They just walk in and say ‘Fix me,’ and then they’re done,” she said.

While the doctor shortage is one reason walk-ins are in demand, Douglass said convenience has almost become a necessity of this modern era.

“We’re in a fast-paced world and we don’t have time to wait much anymore,” she said.

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