Freestanding emergency rooms have been the bane of many urgent care operator’s existence—and a source of outrage for patients who wind up getting stuck with a hefty and unexpected bill after seeking care at such facilities. Legislative bodies in multiple states have taken steps to prevent freestanding ED operators from hitting patients with surprise bills while trying to mandate price transparency, but Colorado has done them one step better. The state is incentivizing administrators to close hospital-operated freestanding EDs (which account for 34 of the 44 that operate there by offering them money to shut their doors or to convert those locations to serve other purposes. Given that freestanding EDs are much maligned as a cash grab by healthcare systems simply trying to poach patients from nearby full-service emergency rooms, it may actually work. On the other hand, a more organic (and ultimately less expensive) route could be to change reimbursement rates so they’re not as favorable and watch operators close up shop on their own. Either way, seeing freestanding EDs wither away will leave a void that urgent care is well-positioned to fill. Data from the Center for Improving Value in Health Care show that most conditions treated in a freestanding ED could be treated appropriately and a lower cost in an urgent care centers—in fact, treatment for the same complaint at a freestanding ED could cost up to 10 times as much as it would in a nearby urgent care center. If you’re not already doing so, stress urgent care as your brand, make insurance and fee information prominent in the waiting room and on your website and social media.

Colorado Is Paying Freestanding EDs to Shut Down. Is This a Sign of Things to Come?