Medical Clinics Or A Specialist Visit? What Patients Need To Know

Do you need to see a specialist? You have an ache, pain, illness, or another health-related issue. But you're not sure which type of provider to see. Before you make an appointment with the first doctor you google, take a look at what you need to know about medical clinics, physicians, and your options.

What Are Physician Clinics?

Physician, or medical, clinic is a broad term for general health-care practices. These clinics include community-based centers, urgent care providers, and doctor's offices. A clinic may have standard daylight or weekday hours or it may include early morning, evening, or weekend options. While services vary by practice, you can expect the typical clinic to provide:

  • General physical examinations. Do you need a prework physical or a wellness checkup? Many clinics offer this type of preventive service for healthy adults. Not only will a physical fulfill an employment (or athletic) requirement, but it can also help you to spot a potential health issue before it goes from minor to major.

  • Sick patient visit. Do you have a sore throat, cough, runny nose, or other symptoms? Clinic physicians can evaluate, diagnose, and treat most common illnesses. 

  • Referral services. Symptoms of a potential chronic or serious condition may need further examination. If a general primary care physician (PCP) believes you may have something more than a temporary common illness, they can refer you to a specialist to see after your clinic appointment.

Some clinics provide these and other services on a walk-in basis, while others require an appointment. Contact your nearest clinic before you arrive. The staff can explain the clinic's walk-in policy and help you schedule services if needed.

When Should You See A Specialist?

Now that you know more about what clinics are, you're ready to take the next step. If you're still not sure whether you should start at a clinic or go straight to the specialist, consider:

  • Your insurance policy. Does your policy require a referral from a PCP before the plan pays for a specialist visit? If your plan has a referral clause, you will need to visit a clinic or doctor's office before you seek specialty treatment. Failure to do so could result in unexpected out-of-pocket costs.

  • Your symptoms. You don't feel well or are in pain. But you're not sure what that means or which specialist is the right provider to assess and diagnose your symptoms. A clinic doctor or PCP can conduct an initial examination and help you to choose the right specialist for your needs.

  • Your diagnosis. Do you already have a diagnosis? If you already have a diagnosis from another provider, you may want to start with a specialist.

Along with these issues, some patients visit medical clinics for second opinions. A PCP believes you have a chronic or serious condition. But you want to know more before you seek specialty treatment. An appointment at a different clinic or office may help you to better understand or validate the initial diagnosis. 

For more information, contact a local medical clinic