As hospital emergency rooms across the country fill to bursting with more and more patients — many of whom go to the ER not because of an emergency, but because their primary doctor does not offer after-hour care — more healthcare industry experts are encouraging patients to seek alternative facilities for treatment. Freestanding emergency rooms, some of which are associated with certain hospitals and function as an offsite location, and some of which are completely independent from a hospital system — are popping up across the U.S. and becoming a more common alternative for receiving treatment.
These freestanding facilities, often tucked into residential neighborhoods and away from the pedestrian and business-related traffic near busy hospitals, are equipped with board-certified technology and specialists who can provide the same services — and do so at the same costs — as a normal hospital.
However, the Colorado legislature is not too keen on allowing freestanding ERs to charge the same fees as hospital ERs, unless the freestanding facility is run under a hospital’s license; the hospitals themselves, as reported the Denver Post, are also working to make these freestanding facilities more accessible. The Urgent Care Association of America reports that the average wait time in a hospital emergency room is greater than three hours, while a freestanding emergency room wait time is usually between 60 to 90 minutes; independent urgent care centers emphasize that their waiting periods are often around 15 minutes, even though they are not equipped to handle major emergencies. Financially, many people choose to go to urgent care centers and independent freestanding emergency rooms because the out-of-pocket costs are usually cheaper: the average co-pay for an urgent care clinic is $20, while the average co-pay for an emergency room visit is $50.
Critics of urgent care centers and independent emergency rooms note that these facilities are not always able to care for serious emergencies, and that many patients have trouble figuring out how serious their injury is before seeking treatment; nevertheless, it should be noted that these facilities will provide as much care as possible, and will direct patients to the nearest hospital ER if a condition is too serious to be treated at an outpatient facility.