Offsite ER vs. Urgent Care: Not Being Able to Tell the Difference Could Cost You!

If you sprain your ankle, the first place you’re likely to go is either an emergency room or an urgent care clinic. Each of these facilities can offer the proper treatment, but what happens when you mistake a freestanding emergency room for an urgent care clinic?

The situation is more common than you might think! In fact, with 32 out of 50 states currently operating offsite or freestanding emergency rooms, patients make this mistake all the time. A large part of this issue lies in the fact that offsite emergency rooms typically offer the same set of services as lower-charge facilities like urgent care. In fact, an estimated three-fourths of the most common offsite ER diagnoses are identical to those given at urgent care clinics.

The catch? Not all offsite ERs are required to be labeled as such. Misrepresentation by freestanding ERs confuses patients, causing them to pay more for services that could have been rendered at an urgent care clinic. At an offsite emergency room, a cut that doesn’t require any stitches could chrage a patient upwards of $6,000. And if you need an antibiotic for a sinus infection? The bill could run up to $4,025!

One of the biggest reasons people make the mistake of visiting an offsite ER is a failure on the facility’s part to accurately disclose anticipated charges, including the facility fee that covers staffing and lab equipment 24 hours a day.  

The freestanding ER model does provide some benefits to areas with poor access to healthcare and helps alleviate overcrowded emergency departments in hospitals. Unfortunately, these freestanding ERs typically operate out-of-network, which means they don’t have contracted rates with insurance companies. In other words, they are free to charge whatever amount they like for any given service.

The mislabeling of offsite ERs and the high charges associated with standard services are triggering confusion and consumer backlash. Issues like this are exactly why organizations like Adeptus Health, which runs or partners with 99 freestanding ERs in the U.S., are involved in major lawsuits. In fact, Adeptus is currently in the midst of a $5 million lawsuit for this exact reason.

So before you make a costly mistake, make sure you familiarize yourself with the ER and urgent care facts below.

er vs urgent care