When we think about emergency rooms, it is the hospital that comes to mind, and there is some peace of mind that comes with knowing the emergency room you may be awaiting treatment in, is connected to a trustworthy hospital. However, with emergency visits in the U.S. climbing from 115 million in 2005 to 136.3 million in 2016, industry thought leaders have been exploring innovative ways to impact wait times, over crowding, and patient outcomes in emergency departments.
High-tech standalone emergency centers — staffed with doctors and nurses but often miles from a hospital — have been trending all over the U.S., sprouting up in Washington, D.C., Florida, Minnesota, Texas, and more, as a viable solution to the multifaceted challenges facing current U.S. health care emergency departments.
What makes these emergency centers different from the traditional EDs?
Here are the top 5 differences, good or bad, between traditional ED’s that we’re used to, and the innovative, yet controversial high-tech standalone emergency centers:
More patients can be seen, treated and sent on their way in less time than in traditional emergency departments.
Patients who need emergency room services often times wait for hours before being seen and treated by a physician or nurse practitioner, due to overcrowding. Standalone emergency centers provide a different option for emergency treatment, without sacrificing the level of service and standard of treatment, as they are fully staffed with doctors and nurses.
There is no change in patient costs for emergency treatment whether at a traditional ED, or a new standalone emergency center. Insurance plans and Medicare generally pay for care in stand-alone emergency departments, just as they do for hospital-based ERs. Yet, care in an ER — whether free-standing or attached to a hospital — costs the patient and the insurance company substantially more than at doctor's offices or urgent care centers.
For example, Medicare reimburses medical providers $316 if a patient is treated in an emergency department, compared with $138 in an urgent care center. Emergency departments are open longer hours and generally have more staff, so overhead costs are higher.
High-tech standalone emergency centers are fully staffed with doctors and nurses, and treat the emergency ailments and illness that traditional ED’s do, in cases that do not involve patients being admitted to a hospital.
However, if patients do need to be admitted to the hospital after receiving emergency treatment, standalones refer patients to the nearest hospital. Though hospital ER admittance are significantly reduced as a result of standalone centers, if/when patients are referred to the hospital after treatment, they are now finding themselves competing for beds among patients who were seen by hospital ER’s.
Standalone emergency centers shorten patient travel times offering local emergency centers for suburban or rural residents who, otherwise, would have to cover long distances to get to the ‘nearest’ hospital to receive treatment.
Controversial nonetheless, High-tech standalone emergency centers may be here to stay. No, it’s not the end-all solution for emergency room overcrowding that we’re all used to, but it is progressive, and is having a positive impact on patient convenience, and outcomes.