Urgent care operators who face competition from freestanding emergency rooms should emphasize cost differences compared with urgent care, and remind patients that vigilance may be needed to tell the difference between the two. Patients in Texas, for example, are finding that a new law requiring freestanding emergency rooms to post notices that fees may be comparable to a hospital emergency room doesn’t go far enough in preventing surprisingly big bills postcare. One problem: The nature of such visits—being distracted by pain and rushing through the registration process—discourages close attention to the fine print (literally). One patient recalls having a handful of papers thrust into her hands in the waiting room, only to be told as her name was called that she could finish reviewing them “later.” The visit ended up costing nearly $4,000—which could have been avoided had she visited an urgent care center, she realized later. Urgent care operators should consider including a direct cost comparison between freestanding emergency rooms and urgent care in marketing, promotion, and patient education materials. Recommending that patients plan ahead for urgent needs may also preclude desperate last-minute online searches that ultimately lead them to expensive freestanding ERs instead of urgent care.

Freestanding ER Sticker Shock Still an Issue Despite Transparency Laws