If it seems like freestanding emergency rooms are popping up everywhere, try driving through a less-tony zip code. Researchers from Boston’s Brigham and Women’s Hospital found growth of the ERs is concentrated in high-income areas with growing populations, more traditional ERs, a higher proportion of privately insured patients and a lower proportion of Medicaid beneficiaries. That leaves lower-income patients who need immediate care stuck waiting in the hospital emergency room, even if their complaints are nonemergent. Ohio, Texas, and Colorado have the greatest number of freestanding ERs. In Texas and Ohio, specifically, they’re especially thick in ZIP codes with more privately insured patients. Texas’s freestanding ERs are more likely to be in ZIP codes with fewer Hispanics and higher annual spending. The authors of the study, which was published in the Annals of Internal Medicine, concluded that although the model is on the rise, the facilities grow in areas that need the least help with care access. Conversely, though the study did not consider it specifically, this information can help inform expansion plans for urgent care operators looking for areas that may be rich in potential new patients—even if those patients themselves are far from rich.
Freestanding ERs Leave Lower-Income Patients in Need of Other Options