As the old adage goes, “health is wealth.” With the rising costs of healthcare services in hospitals and emergency rooms, it has become more apparent that healthier people are less likely to go poor on accumulated medical debts.
The emergence of free-standing ER facilities in Texas
According to the National Center for Health Statistics, over 130 million Americans visit the nearest emergency room every year. Texas, being one of the most populous states in the U.S., also boasts the highest number of people visiting the emergency room every year at a rate of 49 for every 100 patients.
However, not all cases can be considered an emergency per se. According to a 2014 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention survey, among the top reasons that patients found themselves at the ER is because either their doctor’s office/clinic was not open at that particular time or they lack access to other healthcare providers.
Subsequently, urgent care facilities, walk-in clinics, and freestanding emergency rooms have sprouted up throughout Texas. This explosion has wreaked its share of confusion for Texas patients who are not well-informed on how to differentiate freestanding emergency rooms with the much-more-affordable urgent care facilities. They only find out once their bill arrives.
While state regulations exist for opening freestanding emergency medical care facilities in Texas, urgent care patients still make the mistake of visiting an emergency medical facility when they meant to visit an urgent care provider all along.
Why you need to learn the difference
Despite the fact that freestanding emergency rooms are obligated to disclose their status to patients and refer patients to urgent care facilities as needed, confused patients complain such disclosure is not always the case. For these patients, a shocking medical bill provided the only evidence of their mistake.
The fact that these facilities are often found in areas where urgent care centers are also found compounds the confusion. In fact, a simple Google map search yields both urgent care and freestanding ERs results without any clear distinction between the two. The fact that the same service costs 10 times higher in an emergency room than in an urgent care center is not evident until too late.
For non-emergency cases, both facilities can provide the same great service. However, the price difference between the two is so great that healthcare providers are urging patients to learn how to physically differentiate between the two.
Emergency Department Use in the Country’s Five Most Populous States and the Total United States, 2012, CentersforDiseaseControlandPrevention.gov
You Thought It Was an Urgent Care Center, Until You Got the Bill, NBCNews.com
Freestanding Emergency Medical Care Facilities, TexasDepartmentofStateHealthServices.gov