In recent years there has been an explosion of choices for emergency and urgent medical care, which is cause for concern when you aren’t sure which facility meets your immediate (and often critical) healthcare needs.
In the past, the only emergency room was the one attached to your local hospital. Everything from sore throats to traffic accidents was treated there. Now there are freestanding emergency rooms and urgent care facilities available.
What are the differences between a hospital-based emergency department, a freestanding emergency room, and an urgent care facility?
Hospital-Based Emergency Rooms
Hospital-based emergency rooms are hospital departments where patients can access quick, comprehensive care for serious health threats such as cardiac arrest, strokes, and automobile accidents.
People also come to this type of facility for less critical needs, such as fevers, sore throats, sprained ankles, and other less severe problems. Since the needs of patients dictate who receives care first, the emergency department operates on a triage system to ensure the most critical patients receive care first, leaving those with less severe issues to wait, sometimes for hours, to be seen.
The traditional ER accesses the hospital’s technology for imaging, laboratory testing, and emergency surgery, among other services. The law requires the ER to meet a standard of care for each patient, which can translate into multiple tests and procedures to rule out certain conditions.
Patients may receive multiple bills from the hospital, the emergency room physician who treated the patient, the pathologist who interpreted the lab tests, a radiologist for reading imaging tests, and the hospital itself for using the facility.
Those with insurance may pay a copay, while those without insurance may receive a discount. Some hospital ERs also serve the indigent population and often receive no reimbursement or pay for work performed.
- 24-hour medical care 365 days a year
- Skilled emergency physicians, staff, and technologists
- Admission without transport to another facility for serious cases
- Possible long wait for care if you have a non-life-threatening problem
- Not designed to treat routine illnesses
- Patients are not seen on a first-come, first-served basis but are taken in order of severity of the condition
It is best to visit a hospital-based emergency room when your condition is life-threatening, and it is the closest emergency facility.
Freestanding Emergency Rooms
Freestanding emergency rooms may be owned and operated by a hospital, a business entity, or an individual. They can be found in both rural and urban areas.
The freestanding ER is a licensed facility structurally distinct and separate from a hospital, often found in retail or residential areas. These facilities often receive more “walk-in” patients than a traditional ER but otherwise provide care to people in all conditions, severe or not. Family First ER is a freestanding emergency room.
Insurance companies often pay freestanding ERs differently from traditional emergency departments. Sometimes, the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services may not allow payment for the technical component of services offered in these facilities.
- Many are open 24/7, all year around
- Skilled emergency staff and physicians
- Quality laboratory and imaging services without going to a hospital
- Generally shorter waiting times than a hospital emergency room
- Charges rates comparable to a hospital emergency room
- May be an out-of-network provider for health benefit plans
- If you require hospitalization, you must be transported to the nearest hospital
A freestanding ER is a convenient healthcare resource for both minor and serious healthcare concerns, especially in regions without a local hospital.
Urgent Care Facilities
An urgent care facility is privately or publicly owned. A hospital, healthcare entity, or private operator may operate it. You can often find them in retail centers or residential areas, where they function as “walk-in” clinics for people with less serious health concerns or who may not have access to a primary care physician.
An urgent care facility is not required to maintain the same emergency-level equipment and staff as an emergency room, freestanding or hospital-based, so they don’t typically treat life-threatening conditions. Urgent care facilities are often staffed by mid-level providers like nurse practitioners.
Most urgent care clinics don’t operate 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. More typically, they provide services for 10 to 12 hours a day, often remaining open on part or all of the weekend at reduced hours.
Costs are generally lower than an emergency room, often requiring just a copay.
- Often many locations for convenience
- Less expensive treatment compared to an emergency room
- Insurance providers may only require a copay to visit
- Do not treat severe injuries or life-threatening illnesses
- Limited hours, not open 24/7
- Does not always have a physician on staff
If you have a non-life-threatening issue, an urgent care clinic might be the nearest and most convenient option if you cannot see your primary care doctor.
The best choice for your medical treatment will depend on your condition, insurance, location, and budget. Before you have an emergency, consult your medical insurance carrier to clarify your benefits and coverage. You can then make an informed decision on where to go.
As always, Family First ER, a freestanding emergency room, stands ready to help you with your healthcare needs. We are fully staffed with highly trained emergency physicians, nurses, and staff. We have access to high-level laboratory and imaging equipment and technicians.
Contact us to learn more about our facility.