In Canada, walk-in clinics (WICs) are a focus for debate about access to and the costs and quality of primary care. While WICs may offer patients easier access through longer hours and shorter waits, it has been argued that they may also lead to unnecessary utilization, duplication of services, lack of continuity of care, decreased quality and increased costs.
The main objectives were to analyse the characteristics and attitudes of physicians working in different family practice types including WICs.
We analysed the results of a 1998 survey of 728 primary care physicians in Ontario to compare physicians working in WICs with those working in solo and group family practices.
Our survey found that few physicians worked most or all of their hours in WICs; most worked in WICs and other family practice types. Compared to family physicians in solo and group practices, physicians working in WICs saw more patients who were not their regular patients, patients without appointments and children. They reported slightly higher frequencies of problems such as backlogs (patient queues) and patients who had sought care from other doctors for the same problem. WIC physicians were less satisfied than other physicians with their relations with patients. They were, however, more satisfied with the availability of consultation, support staff, hours, income, and vacation coverage. Further, WIC physicians assessed the quality of care in WICs to be neither better nor worse than that in other family practices.
We conclude that there are important similarities as well as differences, between physicians in WICs and those in more conventional family practices. The assessments of primary care physicians do not support the generally negative reputation of WICs. Instead, greater consideration should be given to the system-level issues which produce demand for WICs.