Standalone ERs: Florida, Texas, among the latest to embrace free-standing centers

Florida and Texas are the latest states to see an increase in the number of standalone emergency rooms popping up in high-traffic, commercial areas.

Unlike urgent care centers, the free-standing centers offer emergency care in addition to CT scans, X-rays, ultrasounds, clinical laboratory services and pharmaceuticals.

In Florida, Florida Medical Center and Westside Regional Medical Center opened new centers in West Boca and Davie, respectively, according to the Sun Sentinel. Florida Medical Center is owned by the for-profit Tenet Healthcare Corp. Hospital Corporation of America owns Westside Regional. 

Executives who run the ERs say the stand-alone facilities offer similar services but faster emergency care than a traditional hospital emergency department.

There are now more than 400 such centers in the United States and the numbers continue to grow. In response to hospital closings in rural Georgia, state lawmakers approved legislation in 2014 to allow freestanding ERs so that residents can receive emergency care.

In Texas, Neighbors Emergency Center plans to open 24 free-standing ERs across the state within the next two years, The (Texas) Monitor reports. And the University of Colorado Health (UC Health) just announced a joint venture to operate the 12 existing and two planned First Choice Emergency Room facilities in the state, according to the Denver Business Journal.

"Patients absolutely want care closer to home, so they go to free-standing emergency departments," UC Health President and CEO Elizabeth Concordia told the Denver Business Journal. "Through this partnership, our goal is to get many of these centers in-network with commercial providers."

Setuil Patel, M.D., chief executive of Neighbors Emergency Center and a practicing emergency physician, told The Monitor that he saw a similar need in Texas. "Your existing emergency room wait times were long and we feel like we'll be able to serve the community really well," he said.

Despite the demand, the care offered is just as expensive as a hospital ER. The Sun Sentinel reports that an average charge for an ER visit in Broward County, Florida, was $3,737 and in Palm Beach County, the average cost was $4,675. Indeed, patients who go to free-standing ERs often complain that the facilities provide misleading pricing information. And critics say that many patients could receive less expensive care from a physician practice or urgent care facility, FierceHealthcare previously reported.

To learn more:
- read the Sun Sentinel article
- here's The Monitor story
- check out the Denver Business Journal piece