With so many options for healthcare now available, it’s sometimes challenging to know whether you should be going to a hospital emergency room, a freestanding ER, urgent care center or make an appointment with your family physician. When you’re in need of care, you have to make a fast decision about which alternative is right for you at the time. It’s often not possible to get hold of your family doctor, particularly at short notice or outside regular business hours. In most cases, coming into a freestanding emergency room or clinic should be your first choice, for a number of reasons:
Reason #1: Extended Hours
Most freestanding ERs are open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, compared with urgent care facilities that might offer limited extended hours. This means it makes no difference what time of the day or night you realize you need medical attention. You can come directly to the clinic and receive the same level of care from board-certified emergency physicians as you would at a hospital ER. According to the American College of Emergency Room Physicians (ACERP), two-thirds of emergency visits take place outside business hours or when doctors’ offices are closed.
Reason #2: Easier Access
Hospitals tend to be located in areas zoned for the type of facilities they typically inhabit. Happily, this isn’t the case for freestanding emergency rooms. A study conducted in 2007 by The Journal of Emergency Medicine showed that 92% of freestanding ERs were located in urban areas, compared with only 58% of hospital emergency facilities. Whether you’re using private or public transport, the closer you are to getting help when you need it the better your chances of relief.
Reason #3: Lower Traffic Volumes
Hospital ERs typically have high traffic volumes, which peak at certain hours of the day. The relatively fewer patients who come to freestanding emergency rooms means that you get the medical attention you need much faster than you would in a hospital setting. A Statista report dated 2013 shows that freestanding ERs treat an average of 38 patients per day for durations of 1.25 hours. Hospital ERs, however, treat almost four times that number with an average of 125 patients a day, and take 3 hours for each one.
Reason #4: Wider Variety of Referral Options
There are certainly times when patients arrive at Freestanding emergency rooms but need hospitalization. Most freestanding ERs have referral agreements in place with surrounding hospitals for any patients who are critical, need surgical interventions or other specialized treatment. Freestanding ERs typically refer all cases directly to the institution with which they are affiliated. This can limit the care available for certain conditions, and may result in the patient having to be transferred on to another hospital for the right care.
Reason #5: You Won’t Be Left Waiting
This is the single most prevalent reason for dissatisfaction among patients who seek medical care at hospital emergency rooms each year. With the type of demand hospital ERs deal with, anyone whose condition isn’t critical is typically left sitting and waiting for several hours while more urgent cases are attended to first. While the CDC estimates that one-third of emergency room visits are non-urgent, far more patients that are commonly left waiting hours for attention in the ER.
Dr. Sandra Schneider, president of the American College of Emergency Physicians, says that patients with chest pains really should call 911 instead of going to the ER, but the reality is that many don’t because of the perception that ambulance transportation tacks on really high costs to your bill. Whether cases are true emergencies or not, by getting attention immediately patients can begin treatment, get transferred or receive peace of mind in a shorter time by using alternatives to a hospital emergency room.
A freestanding ER offers what amounts to a single point of access for healthcare when you’re injured or develop unknown symptoms. Instead of the long wait times associated with hospital ERs, the inconvenient hours of urgent care facilities and the difficulty associated with getting hold of your regular physician, the ER enables you to get the care you need, where and when you need it. And if you need hospitalization, a freestanding emergency room can arrange the best option for you depending on location and your condition.