Freestanding ER vs. Urgent Care Center: Differences to Know
IN A NUTSHELL:
- Out of pocket cost for patient drastically different
- Both can be privately owned or hospital-owned
- Administrators must handle multiple locations, providers
Freestanding emergency rooms and urgent care centers offer unique and important benefits to patients in their own way, yet their purpose and services are often mixed up with cost being a significant factor.
Healthcare providers must understand this common confusion when offering advice to their patients. Administrators at the local and regional level should know how to effectively manage staff and workflows for a smooth operation that benefits everyone involved.
Facility differences healthcare providers should know for their patients:
Levels of Service
Urgent care facilities are a great option for patients with non life-threatening injuries or illnesses. These facilities function like a primary care physician’s office with extended hours. Patients may be seen by a nurse practitioner, physician assistant, or sometimes a doctor.
Urgent care facilities are an ideal choice for patients with common illnesses and minor injuries such as:
- Minor infections
- Flu symptoms
- School and sports physicals
- Small lacerations
Freestanding Emergency Room:
For true medical emergencies that require immediate attention, freestanding emergency rooms are the best choice for patients. Unlike urgent care, these facilities have emergency room-trained physicians staffed around the clock. The following life-threatening illnesses and injuries would warrant a trip to the emergency room:
- Heart attack
- Severe bleeding
- Severe burns
- Chest pain
- Head injury
- Loss of consciousness
- Severe abdominal pain
Bottom Line: A freestanding emergency room can treat any of the conditions a hospital-based emergency room could. An urgent care can only treat minor injuries and illnesses.
One of the crucial differences between freestanding emergency rooms and urgent care centers that patients need to be aware of is cost. Most insurance plans will have a copay for urgent care centers that is higher than seeing a primary care physician, but a fraction of the cost of visiting the emergency room. If a patient’s condition warrants going to an emergency room, the costs at a freestanding ER are usually comparable to an emergency room located within a hospital.
Hospital Owned vs. Privately Owned:
A majority of urgent care centers are privately owned, often by physicians or physician groups. In recent times, investment firms and other corporations are purchasing urgent care centers to create brands. There are urgent care centers which can be completely owned by a hospital network or affiliated in some capacity.
A freestanding ER can also be hospital-owned or privately owned. In most cases, it doesn’t matter if a patient visits a hospital-owned or a privately owned freestanding ER. Hospital-owned freestanding ERs will have the same insurance network status as the parent hospital. Privately owned freestanding ERs usually negotiate with insurers for in-network coverage.
When it comes to state or federal health insurance plans, the cost varies. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) will only cover care at hospital-owned freestanding ERs. Urgent care centers typically accept government plans no matter if they are hospital owned or privately owned.
Hours & Appointments: You don’t need an appointment to go to either a freestanding ER or an urgent care center. Urgent care centers are open an average of 13 hours a day. Most urgent care centers also have weekend hours. This allows them to provide care for urgent matters when many doctors’ offices are closed. However, freestanding ERs are open 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
Staff: The staff at an urgent care center can vary depending on the level of care it provides. You may or may not see a doctor at an urgent care center. At some centers, you will see an advanced practitioner, such as a physician assistant. But many centers have doctors on staff who are board certified in emergency medicine or family medicine. In general, the staff at freestanding ERs will be larger and include emergency doctors, emergency nurses, laboratory technicians, radiology technicians, and additional staff to support any of the providers.
Patient Waiting Time: Patients will spend less time in either an urgent care center or a freestanding ER compared to the emergency department located within a hospital. Most visits to urgent care centers take 60 minutes or less, according to the 2019 Urgent care association report, with wait times ranging between 30 minutes and 60 minutes. Freestanding ERs also have similar wait times. However, in a non life-threatening situation, the wait time at an emergency department within a hospital can double.
What Healthcare Administrators Should Know:
No matter if it is hospital-owned or privately-owned, an urgent care center or a freestanding ER—healthcare providers may be credentialed differently with varying privileges and appointments depending on the location of the facility.
Healthcare administrators involved with multiple locations of freestanding ERs or urgent care centers must be mindful when managing their roster. It makes no difference if the facilities are privately owned or owned by a hospital. Privileges and appointments for providers at one facility can be completely different than at another location, even if they are under the same name.
Additionally, healthcare credential management needs along with reporting, payer enrollment, and expiring documents can vary for the same provider at different locations for freestanding ERs and urgent care centers.
Ready Doc™ by Intiva Health for Urgent Care Centers and Freestanding Emergency Rooms: Ready Doc™ is a free medical credential management software that is an ideal solution for healthcare facilities that may have multiple locations, such as urgent care centers or freestanding ERs.
Read a Case Study: Austin Emergency Center: How Ready Doc™ Fixed Their Credentialing
A large roster of healthcare providers is hard to handle in and of itself without a proper software. When providers are working at multiple locations, it adds another layer of administrative burden.
Ready Doc™ saves time, money, and reduces risk—especially for facilities that have multiple locations with multiple or shared providers. Administrators can share the platform across all locations, allowing them to securely access provider credentials at any facility.
Ready Doc™ enables users to request information from specific providers, assign tasks, as well as track appointments and privileges for providers based on a facility location. The utility of Ready Doc™ goes beyond the walls of individual facilities. Regional directors are able to review reports and track tasks for all facilities within their region, and assign additional administrative actions as needed for specific locations.
Additional User Benefits:
- Digitize Physical Files
- Centralized Task Management
- Quicker Reimbursement With Automated Payor Enrollment
Ready Doc™ is a win-win for administrators of freestanding ERs or urgent care facilities. The credentialing process is fast and hassle-free, and can be shared throughout multiple locations!
With Ready Doc™, providers can start treating patients sooner, revenue is boosted, administrative work is reduced, and there is more time for patient care.
To learn more about how your facility can be ready with Ready Doc™, schedule a FREE demo online today or call 844-413-2602.