Is an Urgent Care or Freestanding Emergency Department Popping Up in Your Neighborhood? What's the Difference?

Here at Uptown Orlando, just like you may have noticed, the opening of multiple walk-in emergency centers in Central Florida. We’ve asked our local emergency expert Dr. Hector Rivera, MD, FACEP if he could explain what these centers are and the differences between the two. Here’s what he had to say:

Is there any significant difference in the level of care at these centers?

Going to the closest hospital emergency department when you are sick could be costly and inconvenient, especially for minor urgent needs. A growing trend is the popping up of urgent care centers and freestanding emergency departments. These stand-alone clinics for minor emergency care can save tons of money and time when compared to traditional hospital care. So what’s the difference between an urgent care center and a freestanding emergency department (FSED)? While both offer convenient walk-in care, the level of care is very different.

What exactly is an Urgent Care Center and what type of care can we expect?

An urgent care center typically is staffed by a physician that is trained in general medicine and has experience in the care of simple, urgent conditions for common issues for both children and adults. Often urgent care centers are staffed by providers trained in family medicine. The tests that they can order are those one can get rather quickly, such as basic blood work or an x-ray. If you need any more testing or if the doctor believes you need to go to the hospital, you can expect to be sent to the local ER and will get stuck with an urgent care bill as well as a hospital bill.

What is a Freestanding Emergency Department (FSED) and what type of care can we expect?

A freestanding emergency department is a fully functional, hospital-level department. It is typically equipped with more sophisticated lab equipment and imaging equipment (like CT scanners and ultrasound machines). The physicians that run these departments are generally trained in the specialty of Emergency Medicine and are capable of diagnosing and stabilizing more complicated cases. Many FSEDs can keep you for a period of observation until you are better, and if you should need hospitalization they usually have contracts (or are even owned by) local hospitals for quick and efficient transfer. The higher level of care, however, comes at a greater cost – typically you can expect hospital-level charges should you need specific services.

So how do you know where to go for emergency care?

That is a tough question and one that is controversial in the current political climate. For example, if you go to the ER for shortness of breath and were found to just have a minor cold, some insurance companies are now trying to deny payment. How do you know if your cough is just a cold or pneumonia? If your belly pain is gas or appendicitis? If your chest discomfort is muscle soreness or a heart attack? It is impossible to know and diagnose your own conditions. A thorough evaluation by a specially trained medical provider is the only way to be sure. It is important when health care options open up in your neighborhood to quickly glance over what level of care is available so that you can make a safe, quick and reasonable decision should you need immediate attention in the future.