You see them popping up around town. But do you really know what they are?
What is a Free Standing Emergency Room?
A freestanding emergency center, or pop-up ER, is essentially an emergency room without being directly attached to a hospital. Since a Texas law set new licensing guidelines for these types of facilities, they’ve been popping up everywhere. There were only about 25 of these centers in 2011, but now there are close to 200 across the state, with more being built. On the outside, these centers look just like your typical ‘doc in a box’ urgent care facilities, but they’re not. The good news is that they usually have more expensive equipment and can admit patients to the hospital if necessary. At an urgent care, you might see a nurse practitioner, but at a pop-up ER, there is a licensed physician on staff 24 hours a day. However, and most importantly, it’s essential to understand that a free standing ER is an emergency room for billing purposes, meaning the cost of your visit will be well over a thousand dollars. In addition, many of the pop-up ER’s are not in network for many health insurance plans. Even some pop-up ER’s will claim to take “most health insurance policies” although the patient later finds out that not only is the ER out of network but the treating physician (who may bill separately) may also be out of network. Thus, the unknowing patient may be stuck with paying very large medical bills.
How to Identify a Pop-up ER
At this time, these centers are required to have the words ‘emergency room’ in their names to identify to consumers that they are in fact, true emergency rooms and not urgent care clinics. Listed below are a few freestanding emergency centers that are ‘popping up’ around Wichita Falls.
- Select ER
- Neighbors ER
- ER Now
The popularity of these freestanding ERs is growing, but don’t wait for a surprise multi-thousand-dollar bill to find out if the center you visited was an emergency room or an urgent care clinic. If you’re not sure if you’re at an emergency room or an urgent care clinic, ask a few important questions before you see anybody.
- Is this facility an emergency room?
- Is the facility and doctor in my insurer’s preferred provider network?
- What is the approximate cost of my visit today?
Consumer advocates in Texas are calling on lawmakers to require more signage and identification on freestanding emergency rooms. Think twice before going to a freestanding emergency room. At first, you might think it is an urgent care clinic, only to find a shockingly high bill in the mail after your visit. Please understand why it’s so important to let the public know there is a huge (and expensive) difference between traditional urgent care clinics and free standing emergency rooms. A recent report from NBC DFW News Channel Five looked into consumer complaints about freestanding emergency rooms.