What Is the Difference Between Emergency Healthcare Centers Popping Up On The Southside

Matt Briscoe
Publisher and Managing Editor
The Southside Light

South Side--As the south side continues to grow we see these stand alone medical clinics popping up nearly everywhere. It seems like they are on nearly every corner and there are more coming in by the day. But what do you as a patient need to know about these medical facilities and what are the differences among them? We have been looking into the differences to help you make a better decision about where to go when you need healthcare services.

When you are sick and need to be seen by a medical professional you seem to have several choices these days. It seems like a few years back you either went to your regular doctor or you went to an emergency room if it was serious enough. But with emergency rooms becoming increasingly overwhelmed in Corpus Christi and the cost of care going up where do you go for what? The answer really is not that simple.

It is pretty simple to gather what a traditional emergency room is. We have two of them right here in the city’s south side. Those emergency rooms are part of a larger hospital and are directly connected to the hospital in which they serve. Experts say that traditional emergency rooms are always your best bet when you truly need emergency service for things such as chest pains, stroke symptoms or a major injury. The simple answer would be that those facilities are generally much better prepared with trained staff and resources to handle a major emergency. But what if what you have is not considered to be life threatening? There lies the discussion.

You ultimately have plenty of choices for minor emergencies or illnesses--especially if you have insurance coverage. In Texas, a licensed freestanding emergency center is open 24-hours per day, 365 days per year. These so-called freestanding emergency rooms also have x-ray, ultrasound and CT scanning available on-site. Here in Texas, they are also required to have lab capabilities for routine hemotology and chemistry studies. A freestanding emergency center must also be capable of treating all age ranges of patients.

Just here on the city’s south side, we counted at least 4 freestanding emergency centers already operating in the area. We reached out to several leading providers of freestanding emergency services in Texas and many of them have plans in place to further their growth here in the Corpus Christi market with extensive focus on the south side.

The problem with freestanding emergency rooms is that you have to be careful--extremely careful, in fact when it comes to cost. Experts say that before you go to a freestanding emergency room, you ought to have a good idea of what your insurance will cover and what they will not cover.

“Freestanding emergency rooms are very, very good at trying to get you to believe that there will be little or no cost to you, if you have insurance,” says Peter Jones, a health insurance consultant based here in Texas. “What happens is that you end up with a list of tests being ran and the insurance company will feel that the center went overboard and you end up with the bill.”

That says Jones is a major problem with so-called freestanding emergency centers.

The next option for treatment are known as urgent care centers. Experts say that consumers should be well aware that these types of facilities are emergency rooms nor are they meant to be utilized as such.

The American College of Emergency Physicians (ACEP) identifies urgent care centers as usually having more limited capabilities than even a freestanding emergency center. an example of this would be an urgent care center may or may not have access to x-ray machines or electrocardiography capabilities. These types of centers are better equipped to handle things such as sore throats and allergies when your doctor is not readily available. These types of facilities are usually capable of treating simple trauma only.

From a fiscal standpoint, experts note that freestanding emergency centers are not covered by Medicare or Medicaid, according to the ACEP. Where freestanding emergency rooms more commonly ask patients to leave if you do not have insurance and your are unable to pay your bill.

Studies have shown that growing suburban areas like Corpus Christi’s south side are exactly the prime demographic for freestanding emergency centers and urgent care centers. The reason for this is simple capitalistic economics--they establish themselves where persons are more likely to be covered by private healthcare insurance and have the ability to cover the costs that the insurance company may not pick up following treatment.

However, when you need to be seen by a doctor for a minor issue like a sore throat or common cold, urgent care facilities do often accept Medicare and Medicaid. They do also however more often require upfront payment from those who are either uninsured or underinsured.

When you get sick it is certainly clear that patients have options and those options vary depending upon case and circumstances. However, at the end of the day it is much more advisable for a patient to be educated about their own fiscal situation as it is their healthcare situation.


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