Characteristics and Health Care Use of Patients Attending Virtual Walk-in Clinics in Ontario, Canada: Cross-sectional Analysis

J Med Internet Res. 2023 Jan 12:25:e40267. doi: 10.2196/40267.


Background: Funding changes in response to the COVID-19 pandemic supported the growth of direct-to-consumer virtual walk-in clinics in several countries. Little is known about patients who attend virtual walk-in clinics or how these clinics contribute to care continuity and subsequent health care use.

Objective: The objective of the present study was to describe the characteristics and measure the health care use of patients who attended virtual walk-in clinics compared to the general population and a subset that received any virtual family physician visit.

Methods: This was a retrospective, cross-sectional study in Ontario, Canada. Patients who had received a family physician visit at 1 of 13 selected virtual walk-in clinics from April 1 to December 31, 2020, were compared to Ontario residents who had any virtual family physician visit. The main outcome was postvisit health care use.

Results: Virtual walk-in patients (n=132,168) had fewer comorbidities and lower previous health care use than Ontarians with any virtual family physician visit. Virtual walk-in patients were also less likely to have a subsequent in-person visit with the same physician (309/132,168, 0.2% vs 704,759/6,412,304, 11%; standardized mean difference [SMD] 0.48), more likely to have a subsequent virtual visit (40,030/132,168, 30.3% vs 1,403,778/6,412,304, 21.9%; SMD 0.19), and twice as likely to have an emergency department visit within 30 days (11,003/132,168, 8.3% vs 262,509/6,412,304, 4.1%; SMD 0.18), an effect that persisted after adjustment and across urban/rural resident groups.

Conclusions: Compared to Ontarians attending any family physician virtual visit, virtual walk-in patients were less likely to have a subsequent in-person physician visit and were more likely to visit the emergency department. These findings will inform policy makers aiming to ensure the integration of virtual visits with longitudinal primary care.

Keywords: Canada; emergency department; engagement; family physicians; family practice; health care use; integration; primary health care; telemedicine; use; virtual care; virtual health care; virtual walk-in clinic; walk-in clinic.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • COVID-19* / epidemiology
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Delivery of Health Care
  • Humans
  • Ontario
  • Pandemics*
  • Physicians, Family
  • Primary Health Care*
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Telemedicine*

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