In recent years, as the number of local doctors has decreased and hospital emergency rooms have grown increasingly congested, many people across the United States have begun turning to private walk in clinics instead. Urgent care clinics are a popular example of this: these medical centers, which provide urgent medical care for a variety of non-life-threatening conditions, allow patients to access quick, convenient treatment for the price of a normal doctor’s co-pay. Given the success of urgent care clinics, some states are now allowing companies to do something similar with emergency room care. However, with many patients reporting that these freestanding emergency rooms can be confusing and expensive, the state of Texas is considering changing how these facilities are required to identify themselves.
Freestanding emergency rooms are a lot like urgent care clinics: they are both private medical clinics that treat a wide range of medical conditions, typically see patients within minutes, and often offer additional services, such as lab work. However, Texas requires freestanding emergency rooms to be open 24 hours a day, treat life-threatening conditions, and ensure that patients are seen by an emergency room physician. What’s more, while an urgent care clinic’s billing is usually similar to the cost of a doctor’s appointment, freestanding emergency rooms cost about the same as a trip to a traditional ER, with a facility fee to boot.
Since the State of Texas passed a law setting licensing guidelines for the facilities, their numbers have increased dramatically, reaching 145 centers in 2015. Industry members have also reported that satisfaction with these centers in the state have reached 99th percentile when it comes to overall patient satisfaction. However, many people say that they were charged exorbitant fees after accidentally stopping in emergency facilities, assuming they were visiting an urgent care clinic. One woman in Frisco, for example, claims she was charged over $1,000 when she unknowingly received emergency room care for a simple cold. Now, state lawmakers say they have received so many complaints that they are considering a law which would mandate that freestanding emergency rooms post notices in their lobbies identifying them as such. Texas already requires these centers to have an ambulance entrance and use the word “emergency” in their signage.
The bill is expected to reach the governor’s desk at some point in May. However, freestanding emergency room clinics have called for better patient education about treating various conditions, and have also pointed out that patients are already required to sign forms acknowledging that their emergency facilities will bill insurance providers under their emergency department benefits. Regardless, if you decide to head to an urgent care clinic, make sure you are using the right facility if you don’t want to pay dearly for your mistake.