Free-standing Emergency Room, surprise medical bills

Free StThere’s a new kind of health care facility popping up around the country. They’re called free-standing emergency rooms and are meant for people who need medical attention right away.

But some patients are confusing them with “urgent” care centers, and that can lead to a big surprise when the bill arrives.

After a fun weekend on the river, Fran Friel’s son started having a problem. “His arm was a little red and swollen.” She feared it was some sort of weird infection or blood clot.

“We call the doctor, and they couldn’t get us in for a day or two,” said Friel. “So I said, ‘Well, there’s the emergency clinic right down the road.”

There was no wait. The visit took exactly 25 minutes.

Nurses took her son’s vitals. A doctor showed up for about two minutes. The staff looked at his arm and pulled out a sharpie.

“They drew a circle around it with a sharpie and said if it gets worse, come back. Take the antibiotics and that was it.”

A month later, she opened her mailbox to a jaw-dropping surprise.

“There’s a bill for $1,467. I was just floored,” said Friel. “I knew we were going to get some kind of bill, but I was just astonished at the amount that it was.”

A week later, she received another shock at the mailbox, a $505 bill. It was from the doctor who treated her son.

“It was almost $2,000 for 25 minutes of care,” she said. It’s because Friel took her son to something called a free-standing emergency room, which is an ER not physically attached to a hospital but still charging close to the same price. That means even patients with insurance are on the hook for more money.

“It kind of gives you the perception of a clinic type place, on the road, not affiliated with a hospital, but it is really like you are going to an emergency room,” Friel said.

The freestanding emergency room is a new trend in healthcare, spreading to 35 states.

There are now three in Central Virginia.These centers are usually open 24/7 with a staff trained in emergency medicine. They can do labs, X-Rays, CT Scans and ultrasounds on the spot.

NBC12 reached out to HCA Healthcare, the company that runs the Hanover Emergency Center, to ask for an interview on camera and get a tour of the facility…

Read full story at WWBT NBC12 News

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