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Know Your Emergency Care Centers: Don’t overpay for minor medical care

Picture this: You’ve fallen and sprained your ankle. You are in a lot of pain and need medical attention quickly, so you go to the nearest emergency center. You see the doctor, get an x-ray; they wrap your ankle and send you home. A few weeks later, you receive a bill upwards of $2,500 for the visit.

It’s an unfortunately common scenario. Freestanding Emergency Rooms look like urgent care centers and are usually in the same places (such as strip malls) so it’s difficult for consumers to understand the difference. What consumers may not know is that this difference could end up costing them hundreds, or even thousands of dollars.

The most common way to tell if you are walking into a freestanding ER is if you see the word “Emergency” anywhere inside or outside of the building. In most states, urgent care centers by law cannot use the word “emergency” on any signage. When you have an emergency, there are a number of options to get care. Here are a few other key differences between freestanding ERs and urgent care centers:

Urgent Care Centers:

  • Treat minor injuries and illness, such as an ankle sprain or the flu.
  • Have limited screening; diagnostic testing is typically limited to x-rays.
  • Insurance co-pays normally cover the entire visit, or you may be able to work out a payment plan with the clinic.
  • Most of the time, patients with non-life threatening issues will see a much shorter wait time at an urgent care center.

ERs will typically treat the sickest people first, regardless of when they arrive. In addition, most urgent cares including Access Medical and its family of brands – will allow you to check in online.

Freestanding ERs

Freestanding ERs offer true emergency room service. They contain advanced imaging such as CT scans, MRIs and everything you would normally find in a hospital. They treat life serious (life-threatening) injuries and illness, such as chest pains or severe abdominal pain.

Thus, they charge the same price as a regular emergency room. Sometimes an ER bill won’t be covered by insurance because the ER is out of network, but customers don’t learn that until after they have received care. They justify the high prices because freestanding ERs are; in fact, an emergency room staffed by board-certified emergency physicians and licensed the same as the ER within a hospital.

Knowing the differences between emergency care and urgent care may not only save your life, but also a lot of money.