Patients can't tell the difference between hospital walk-in centres and traditional emergency care departments, says research in Emergency Medicine Journal (Comparing care at walk-in centres and at accident and emergency departments: an exploration of patient choice, preferences and satisfaction. Emerg Med J 2007;24:260-4).
And even when they can, they often don't have the option of making a choice. The findings undermine the government's policy on patient choice, suggest the authors.
The research team quizzed just over 700 patients attending eight hospital emergency care departments and eight walk–in centres located in hospital grounds. Patients were asked about their treatment preferences and what they thought of the treatment they had been given.
Most people went to an emergency care department first, even when a walk-in centre was available in the hospital grounds. And almost 80% of those at walk-in centres had been redirected there from emergency care departments.
A third of those being treated at a walk-in centre said they would have preferred to go to a hospital emergency care department. But only 12 to 13% of those at emergency care departments said they would have preferred a walk-in centre.
Over half of those at walk-in centres did not even realise that they were being treated in this kind of facility. Those who chose to go to a walk-in centre thought they would be seen more quickly or that it would be quicker than trying to get an appointment with their family doctor.
There was no difference in the satisfaction levels patients expressed with either type of care.
"The [government] policy aim of establishing walk-in centres to improve access to care appears to have been lost or subsumed by a more immediate demand to reduce A&E workload and waiting times," say the authors.
They add: "There is no evidence from the data available that walk-in centres colocated with A&E departments have achieved the aim of increasing patient choice, preferences or satisfaction with care received."