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Can I take my child to a walk-in medical clinic?

The other night while shopping, my 2-year-old complained that his ear hurt. We went into the store’s medical clinic, found out he had an ear infection and got treatment right there. Is there anything wrong with getting treatment in a store medical clinic?


— Submitted by Nellie from Springfield


Nellie, there are many walk-in medical clinics opening up at stores, and there’s nothing wrong with getting medical care for your children at these clinics. The most important thing is to get medical care for your children when they need it. And convenience is certainly an important factor.

However, some important aspects of medical care at these walk-in clinics should be considered:

  • The quality of care is uncertain: The doctor may not have as much expertise in the care of young children as your children’s regular doctor. Also, good quality care is based on a trusting relationship and good communication with your doctor, which develops over time.
  • They don’t have your child’s full medical history: When you take your children to a walk-in clinic, they don’t have all the information about your child’s development, medical conditions, immunizations and screening tests. Sometimes this is crucial in making a proper diagnosis and prescribing the best treatment.
  • The focus is generally on treatment rather than prevention: People use these medical clinics when they have an urgent problem, such as an ear infection. However, much of good health care for children focuses on prevention, such as making sure your child’s immunizations are current and discussing development, nutrition and injury prevention. This may not be done at the urgent care clinics.
  • If lab tests are done, follow-up may not be as reliable: The walk-in clinic may just do tests for the purpose of treating your child at that visit. But follow-up may be necessary. Be sure to get a copy of the record from your visit, including the test results, diagnosis and treatment, and forward this to your child’s regular doctor.
Overall, the best medical care for children is provided through a “medical home,” a consistent healthcare provider that you take your children to over time. If you’re unhappy with the inconvenience or unresponsiveness of your children’s current doctor, consider checking out other medical practices to find one that is more convenient and responsive.
Karen Sokal-Gutierrez M.D., M.P.H.