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.