Where Do You Turn When You Need Emergency Medical Care? Why a Stand-Alone ER is Better Than an Urgent Care Clinic

Have you or a loved one ever need to go to the emergency room (ER)? This can be a stressful and exhausting process. Depending on the severity of your condition, you may wait for hours to see a practitioner.

Many people believe the cause of long ER waits is people coming with non-emergency problems. To test this belief, the National Hospital Ambulatory Medical Care Survey conducted a survey of emergency departments in 2015. They found that only 5.5% of ER visits were for non-emergent reasons.

So why the long wait? It may depend on where you live. Also, large populations mean more people are having sudden, severe medical problems.

This Healthcare Cost and Utilization Project (HCUP) Statistical Brief looked at the frequency of ER visits. This brief reported that one in every five people stated they visited the ER at least once in the previous year.

One option for receiving emergency care without the long wait can be at a stand-alone ER. This article, hence, describes the differences in hospital ERs, stand-alone ERs, and urgent care clinics. Keep reading to learn more.

What Is a Stand-Alone ER?

Medical Emergency Services

The concept of stand-alone ER began about 50 years ago. They first focused on serving rural areas. Today, you will find them in suburban areas, as well.

These freestanding ERs provide emergency medical care in a location separate from a hospital campus. They serve a different purpose than urgent care clinics.

“Ownership and management of stand-alone ERs may either be through a hospital or a private company.”

Ownership and management of stand-alone ERs may either be through a hospital or a private company. Hospital-owned separate ERs are still staffed and operated by the parent hospital.

Independently owned ERs have no connection to a hospital or hospital system. In these facilities, all doctors, nurses, and staff are employees of the private company that owns the facility.

Many stand-alone ERs employees have trained board-certified physicians on staff. These facilities provide emergency services 24 hours a day. Many are also licensed and regulated by the state in which they operate.

What Is the Difference in hospital-affiliated vs. Privately-Owned ERs?

As mentioned, some hospitals own and manage freestanding ERs. Private companies or corporations own other stand-alone ERs. So, what is the difference between these two types of ERs?

Hospital-Affiliated ER

The term “Hospital Outpatient Department” is the designation given by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. The facility must treat all patients in the same ways as those treated in the hospital-based ER. Thus, the patient has access to all specialists available at the main hospital.

These ERs must meet federal regulations for ER operations. This includes adhering to the Emergency Medical Treatment and Labor Act (EMTALA). EMTALA requires hospital ERs to screen and stabilize all medical emergencies without regard for ability to pay.

To determine if the stand-alone ER is hospital-affiliated or privately owned, look for mandatory signage. Hospital-affiliated facilities must post signs stating that they accept Medicare/Medicaid payment. They also describe your right to treatment at Medicare/Medicaid facilities.

Independently Owned Stand-Alone ERs

stand-alone ER

All staff members in a company-owned stand-alone ER are employees of the company or corporation. The owner also buys and maintains all medical equipment needed to provide full ER services. While they may have arrangements with a hospital for transfers, there is no further connection.

Since these facilities are privately owned, they are unable to accept Medicare/Medicaid payments. Some states, such as Texas, have imposed EMLATA rules on these facilities. Some states, such as Illinois, don’t allow private ownership of freestanding ERs.

How Is a Stand-Alone ER Different from a Hospital ER?

Both hospital-based and stand-alone ERs are open 24 hours a day, seven days a week. They’re prepared to evaluate and stabilize any patient.

In an emergency, a freestanding ER may be closer than a hospital. Going to the nearest facility can result in receiving lifesaving care sooner.

“In an emergency, a freestanding ER may be closer than a hospital.”

Both types of facilities have emergency physicians, nurses, laboratory technicians, and radiology technicians. They can, for example, provide treatment for severe traumas, bleeding, fractures, respiratory problems, heart attacks, and strokes.

Freestanding ERs have the same emergency equipment as in a hospital ER. Thus, they are ready to treat your emergencies.

If the patient needs inpatient hospitalizations, the facility will make these arrangements. In the hospital setting, patients are directly transferred to the appropriate hospital unit. At a freestanding ER, the staff will call an ambulance to transport you to the hospital when you are stable.

Most private ERs have agreements with local hospitals. This allows the stand-alone ER to transfer patients that need inpatient care. The transfers accomplished quickly to allow for the best patient outcome.

Another difference is that most people who go to a freestanding ER are “walk-ins.” This means that they come by private transportation. Ambulances most often take patients to hospital ERs.

Many stand-alone ERs have shorter waiting times to see a practitioner than hospital ERs. Patients often report higher satisfaction with these ERs, as well.

When to Choose an Urgent Care Clinic vs. a Freestanding ERs?

When you get injured or feel sick, you must choose whether to go to an urgent care clinic or an ER. Begin by asking yourself three questions.

Is this serious, or could your life be in danger? Do you think it is safe to wait to have your situation checked? Is this a routine medical issue that your primary doctor or an urgent care clinic can treat?

If you believe your condition is life-threatening, call 911 or got to the nearest ER. For more routine medical problems, call your primary healthcare provider. If, in case, they are unable to see you or you don’t have a regular doctor, you can go to an urgent care clinic.

What Conditions Can Stand Alone ERs Treat?

A nurse treating an injured person in ER

It isn’t always easy to decide about the seriousness of your situation. So, if you believe that your symptoms are severe, call 911 or go to the ER.

Think about your age and how many different symptoms you are having. If you have other medical conditions, this may increase your risk of complications.

Some examples of reasons to go to an ER include:

  • Major trauma
  • Severe burns
  • Sudden start of pain in your chest and trouble breathing
  • Vaginal bleeding if you are pregnant
  • Increase in medical symptoms of a recent treatment
  • Possible allergic reaction with swelling inside or around the mouth and difficulty swallowing or breathing
  • An injury that causes a large wound and severe bleeding
  • If your condition caused you to be unconscious

What Do Urgent Care Clinics Treat?

Urgent care clinics focus on treating medical conditions that aren’t severe or life-threatening. Hence, going to an urgent care clinic with a critical situation may delay the start of life-saving treatment. The clinic will often call for an ambulance to take you to an ER.

Examples of times, you should consider an urgent care clinic:

  • Upper respiratory symptoms such as a stuffy nose, headache, sore throat, coughing, and sneezing
  • Possible flu symptoms such as fever, body aches, or fatigue
  • Illnesses in children such as ear pain, sore throat, or rashes
  • Minor injuries that cause pain or dislocation of a joint, swelling, tenderness, bruising or bleeding
  • Minor burns
  • Possible allergic reactions unless you experience swelling in and around the mouth and trouble breathing

Think about if you have ever felt this way before. Did your previous symptoms need high levels of care? If so, you should consider going to the ER.

“Going to an urgent care clinic with a critical situation may delay the start of life-saving treatment.”

Insurance Coverage

The Affordable Care Act (ACA/Obamacare) makes emergency medical care an essential healthcare benefit. When you go to a stand-alone ER that is not affiliated with a hospital, your financial responsibility will be as follows:

  • Co-pays, co-insurance, and deductibles will apply as when you visit a hospital ER
  • If the provider is not part of your network, you may pay out-of-pocket or choose a self-pay rate option
  • The rates charged are about the same as hospital ER rates
  • The physician may bill separately for the care provided

Stand-alone ERs are not “in-network providers” for any insurance provider network. This also includes Medicare and Medicaid.

The ACA/Obamacare requires that the insurance company process all emergency visits at the “in-network” benefit level. So, speak to the facility or your insurance company if you have any questions.

If the main hospital is “in-network” for your health insurance plan, the hospital-affiliated freestanding ER is as well. This also applies to Medicare and Medicaid.

It’s wise to take some time and plan for an emergency. Find out about the medical facilities near your home, work, or recreational facilities. Take time as well to consider which facility would be your best choice in an emergency.

This article about the stand-alone ER provided information about how they are different from hospital-affiliated ERs. This also discussed examples of when you should choose a freestanding ER vs. an urgent care clinic.

Do You Know About Stand-alone ER Facilities by CH1ER Near You?

At Ch1ER, our facilities provide personal, transparent, and concierge-driven emergency care. The company’s mission focuses on providing first-class care. You will receive individual attention and comfort in a state-of-the-art facility.

We also strive to increase “Community Health” beyond physical wellness. We understand that our community’s economic wellness is closely tied to physical health and wellness. Our staff will work with you so that you will never leave with a hefty bill. Contact us today to ask questions or find the location nearest you.

Where Do You Turn When You Need Emergency Medical Care? Why a Stand-Alone ER is Better Than an Urgent Care Clinic | Community Health 1st ER – Deer Park, TX