The Rise of the Freestanding ER (Part 2 of 2): Convenience and Care

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FSER-thumb4In our last post, we began tackling the topic of freestanding ERs, the presence of which are rapidly growing across the United States, and how insurers and uninsured healthcare consumers are paying more because of these facilities.

Urgent-care centers are also feeling competition, Phil Galewitz of Kaiser Health News reports, since many of these freestanding ERs look like their centers. Alan Ayers, vice president of market development at Concentra Urgent Care, complained, “If the centers were being truly used for emergencies, it would be one thing. But here you mostly are just adding cost to the healthcare system, because a high percentage of the cases could be treated in urgent care.”

But what are the positives of such facilities?

First, freestanding ERs seem to reduce the number of hospital admissions.

Many freestanding ERs will point to the fact that only five percent of their patients end up being “admitted to the hospital—nearly a third of the rate at most standard ERs,” and despite what critics say, most of these cases are identical to the cases seen at those standard ERs, they claim.

Heather Weimer, senior vice president of freestanding ER chain First Choice Emergency Room, said, “We are an ER, no different than a hospital-based ER” and emphasized that patients who “come in with needs that can be addressed more cheaply elsewhere…are told that.”

Second, there’s the convenience factor, especially for insured healthcare consumers.

These facilities do especially well among insured populations in affluent suburbs, one insurer, Shara McClure, vice president at Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Texas, pointed out, simply because they’re easy to access and located close to home and possibly close to each other.

“That’s the case in Sugar Land, southwest of Houston, where two competing doctor-owned facilities — Emerus 24-hour Emergency Room and St. Michael’s Emergency Room — sit adjacent to one another just off the freeway and across the street from Whole Foods. Two hospital-based ERs are within a mile,” Galewitz writes.

Finally, consumers love the speed of their treatment at these freestanding ERs.

One 76-year-old who was interviewed in the article was at Emerus to receive treatment for a racing heartbeat. “I thought this would be quicker than going to a hospital with their long waits,” she said.

Another consumer, Lisa Boncler, had a gash on her head. She received treatment at Texas Emergency Care Center less than an hour after being injured.

She said, “This is so convenient. I’ve been here before. It’s always fast.”

Fewer admissions, convenience, speed. It’s hard to argue against such a model, at least in some form.

“When they build it, people will come and use it,” McClure observed, the added, hearkening back to a point made in our last post. “But they need to know it’s not free.”

What’s your take on this trend? As healthcare leaders, folks who are in the fight each day, are the pros found within a freestanding ER enough to outweigh the cons? Is the convenience and speed worth the cost?

-by Pete Fernbaugh

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