Differences between Freestanding Emergency Rooms and Urgent Care Centers – The Doctors at South Tampa Immediate Care Explain

Differences Between Freestanding Emergency Rooms and Urgent Care CentersWhen it comes to health care facilities, prospective patients have many options. The rising demand for health care, which is fueled in part by the number of aging baby boomers and health care reform, is leading hospitals, physicians, and entrepreneurs to respond in novel and creative ways. In particular, one relatively new and growing phenomenon is the freestanding emergency room (ER).

Freestanding Emergency Rooms 

In essence, a freestanding ER is similar to a hospital ER, with one key difference – it is not attached to a hospital, and therefore cannot handle true emergencies. Some patients might not readily understand the difference. For example, patients who arrive at a freestanding ER on their own and require immediate surgery or cardiac procedures must be rushed by ambulance to the nearest hospital, potentially losing valuable time and delaying treatment, which can sometimes have serious consequences.

Freestanding ERs tout many benefits for patients in comparison to typically overcrowded hospital ERs, the most common being speedy treatment, convenience, posh surroundings, and amenities like WiFi and coffee bars. Oftentimes, they are established in affluent suburban locations near high-end shopping centers. These facilities generally target patients who require routine care that is available in less costly settings, such as urgent care centers, but are willing to pay a premium for a bit of extra luxury and convenience. Significantly, even though freestanding ERs are not set up to handle emergent conditions like heart attacks and traumas, and do not receive patients by ambulance, they bill their patients just like hospital ERs. As a result, a patient with a mildly acute condition who visits a freestanding ER ends up paying substantially more than he or she would have paid for a visit to an urgent care center or doctor’s office (as does his or her insurer, which contributes to rising health care costs across the board).

Urgent Care Centers 

Urgent care centers, on the other hand, are outpatient clinics that treat most illnesses and injuries, but do not handle life-threatening conditions like chest pain, breathing difficulties, or severe bleeding. Unlike hospital ERs and most freestanding ERs, urgent care centers do not offer 24 hour/365 day service from an emergency medicine physician. Instead, urgent care centers are staffed by a combination of physicians, physician assistants, and nurse practitioners, and are typically available 10-12 hours a day, seven days a week.

Also unlike hospital ERs and freestanding ERs, urgent care centers do not charge a “facility fee” on top of a professional fee for the physician’s time. The “facility fee” concept originally came about as a way for a hospital to recoup some of their overhead costs, including equipment, administration, and 24-hour staffing.

Many prospective patients are savvy at self-triage and know when it’s appropriate to call 9-1-1, go to a hospital ER, go to an urgent care center, or utilize over-the-counter treatments. When the concept of the freestanding ER is added to the mix, a patient should consider whether he or she wants to pay for emergency treatment if emergency treatment is not truly warranted.

For further information about your health care options, or if you would like to see a physician for a non-emergent condition, please feel free to contact or visit the South Tampa Immediate Care walk-in clinic.