Hospitals Supply of Medical Services

The end of urgent care?

A recent trend where urgent care centers are being converted to free-standing emergency rooms has hit the Midwest. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reports that “Froedtert Health proposing to convert its urgent care clinic in New Berlin to a free-standing emergency department.”

Why would they do that?  Conventional wisdom holds that EDs are money losers. Although this is true for hospitals that serve large numbers of uninsured and Medicaid patients, for insured patients, the ED is very lucrative. Thus, this move is likely profit driven. Reimbursement rates are higher for emergency room care than urgent center care.  In addition, if Froedert sets up an ER, patients are more likely to be funneled to their hospital, further increasing reimbursements.

Is this the best way to improve access to emergency care?  According to the article:

Critics of free-standing emergency departments contend there are less costly — though less lucrative — ways to lessen the demands on emergency departments, such as opening urgent care clinics with extended hours.

Improving access to care is a good thing. However, it is unclear whether more emergency rooms are the best way to increase access.




  1. ER’s are very lucrative considering the number of CT scans done in that setting (at $2000 a pop), combined with the increased influx of admissions (exacerbated by relatively recent introduction of hospitalists.)

  2. I think something gaining momentum right now, especially with covid is more widespread use of telemedicine clinics that can treat urgent care patients from the comfort of people’s homes through video. I see this helping increase healthcare access. This can be cheaper for patients who are paying out of pocket especially who don’t have to pay as much as an urgent care because the overhead is a lot less.

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