Trend: More free-standing EDs opening

In recent years, the number of freestanding emergency departments has grown dramatically, climbing 23 percent from 2005 to 2006, according to the American Hospital Association. These EDs treat many of the minor conditions typically addressed by urgent care centers, but unlike urgent care centers, are open 24/7. With 179 already in existence, and a dozen or more in the planning stages across the U.S., these independent EDs are an increasingly popular alternative to crowded EDs.

The question, critics say, is whether they're good for the health system as a whole. For one thing, they skim off such patients from medical practices and urgent care, both of which typically charge less. This could raise health system costs overall, analysts say. Also,  patients who need additional help--such as surgery or cardiac procedures--still need to be rushed to traditional EDs, a delay which could prove to be harmful, some emergency care providers suggest.

To learn more about this trend:
- read this USA Today article

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