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Cost, Quality, & Convenience: ER or Urgent Care?

Cost - Quality - Convenience - ER or Urgent Care

Your child is sick or injured, and you’re concerned. Should you go to KidMed? The ER? Another urgent care center?

In that stressful moment, you want to be able to make the right decision quickly. In this article, we’ll show the key differences between healthcare options when your child experiences an illness or injury, including what to expect when you come to KidMed. Understanding these differences will help you make the right decision for your family as you consider quality of care, cost, and convenience during an emergency.

We break down the types of ERs and urgent care centers and their differences:

  • Hospital ERs
  • Freestanding ERs
  • General Urgent Cares
  • Pediatric Urgent Cares, like KidMed

In a moment of uncertainty, the ER is often the first choice. ERs offer the most comprehensive care, yet few pediatric patients need the full scope of ER services. And all those services bring long wait times and high costs.

Most minor injuries and illnesses don’t require an ER visit, and ERs often don’t have pediatric specialists on staff. Your child deserves specialized care instead of adult-centric treatments.

In the current healthcare landscape, there are two types of ERs: hospital ERs and freestanding ERs.

Are physicians on staff?YesAre pediatric specialists on staff?Sometimes; Only in a dedicated pediatric ER
How do relative costs compare?HighestHow does relative wait compare?Highest
Can you get X-rays and treat pediatric fractures?YesIs direct admission to a hospital possible?Yes

Hospital ERs are “typical” ERs with admission to adjoining hospitals if needed. For pediatric emergencies, pediatric ERs are the first choice for serious head injuries, overdoses, and other major health or life-threatening events. At any ER, the most critical cases receive the quickest treatment, meaning patients with minor injuries, including bone fractures, have to wait. Not every ER has pediatric specialists.

Worth noting: ERs are required by federal law to stabilize and examine all patients, regardless of their ability to pay.

KidMed’s relationship with area hospitals and reputation for expert pediatric care allows us the ability to admit pediatric patients directly. For the vast majority of cases, we provide quicker, less expensive treatment in our facilities designed for children and staffed by pediatric experts.

—Dr. Mark Flanzenbaum, KidMed

In ERs without pediatric specialists, children are less likely to be seen by a physician with much, if any, pediatric training. This often leads to unnecessary hospital stays, misdiagnoses, over-testing, and more exposure to illnesses from other ER patients. Without a pediatric wing, kids can experience scary sights, sounds, and people that only heighten their already stressed and anxious state.

Costs are significantly higher as well. ERs charge a facility fee, often more than $1,000, to recoup the added expenses of 24-hour hospital staffing and expensive medical equipment. This facility is in addition to the other ER charges. Hospitals and ERs charge patients differently than urgent care centers, with á-la-carte pricing that adds costs for each medical professional involved, procedure performed, and pill dispensed. While urgent care clinics may charge for procedures, they cannot charge for any oral medications dispensed to patients given in the clinic.

Are physicians on staff?YesAre pediatric specialists on staff?Rarely
How do relative costs compare?HighHow does relative wait compare?Average
Can you get X-rays and treat pediatric fractures?YesIs direct admission to a hospital possible?Yes

Freestanding ERs look a lot like urgent care centers, but they differ primarily by providing access to a CT scanner and ultrasoundservices that few patients need. Most freestanding ERs do not staff pediatricians. Therefore, the quality and accuracy of care should be considered. Freestanding ERs also charge a facility fee.

Insurance companies usually foot most of the bill, but there are often unexpected surprises: small upfront costs with large bills arriving in the mail weeks later.

The number of urgent care centers increased by more than 25% between 2019 and July 2023, according to the Urgent Care Association (UCA). The UCA accredits facilities that “evaluate walk-in patients of all ages for a broad spectrum of illness, injury and disease,” as well as provide on-site X-ray and phlebotomy services, perform minor procedures, and are available seven days a week.

The general level of treatmentaccess to X-rays, basic lab testing, suturingis about the same between adult-centric urgent care and pediatric urgent care. When a primary care provider is not available to see your child, after-hours urgent care provides cost-effective treatment for most ailments. However, not all urgent care centers perform all services in every situation. Some general urgent cares exclude procedures like facial sutures or certain treatments, especially for young children. But, KidMed provides stitches for children of all ages (including cuts on faces)! We can also use nasal medication to help relieve the anxiety related to procedures, if necessary. At KidMed, we take great pride in taking the scary out for kids!

Unlike ERs, urgent care facilities are not required to accept Medicaid or uninsured patients. (KidMed accepts Medicaid and offers self-pay and flexible payment options.)

Are physicians on staff?Usually, but not alwaysAre pediatric specialists on staff?Rarely
How do relative costs compare?LowerHow does relative wait compare?Lower
Can you get X-rays and treat pediatric fractures?SometimesIs direct admission to a hospital possible?Rarely

Typically, general adult-centric urgent care centers are not staffed by physicians, physician assistants, or nurse practitioners with extensive pediatric expertise.

The end result, according to Johns Hopkins pediatric emergency physician Therese Canares, is that “because many urgent-care providers are not comfortable treating certain pediatric cases, they preemptively triage them to the emergency department, even when these kids clearly don’t need emergency care.”

At a general urgent care, young children with dehydration or breathing issues often are referred to the ER because staff lack pediatric experience to treat the issue confidently.

—Dr. Mark Flanzenbaum, KidMed

Are physicians on staff?YesAre pediatric specialists on staff?Yes
How do relative costs compare?LowerHow does relative wait compare?Lower
Can you get X-rays and treat pediatric fractures?YesIs direct admission to a hospital possible?Yes

Whether at an ER or urgent care center, physicians, physician assistants, nurse practitioners, and support staff all have medical expertise. At pediatric urgent care centers like KidMed, that expertise is dedicated to diagnosing and treating children, from newborns to age 25.

Capabilities, including suturing and X-rays, are usually available in general urgent care and pediatric urgent care centersbut only pediatric urgent care centers treat the full range of pediatric illnesses and injuries. KidMed also provides some preventative care, such as sports physicals.

Kids are not just little adults. Their illnesses and injuries are often quite different and need to be diagnosed and treated differently.

—Dr. Mark Flanzenbaum, KidMed

Getting an accurate diagnosis means you can avoid unnecessary ER transfers and treat serious issues quickly. Experience in pediatric treatment ensures that your child’s care is more effective, less stressful, and less painful.

Pediatric urgent care specialists use their expertise to accurately diagnose your child with appropriate testing while minimizing the use of unnecessary tests.

Pediatric expertise is not the only benefit. As with adult-centric urgent care, the cost is far less than most other healthcare options. Unlike ERs, we do not bill facility fees or charge for multiple providers if your child is seen by more than one healthcare professional.

KidMed accepts Medicaid and provides cash options and payment plans. We also accept most insurances.

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