Standalone emergency rooms generate profit, controversy

Andrew Van Dam

About Andrew Van Dam

Andrew Van Dam of The Wall Street Journal previously worked at the AHCJ offices while earning his master’s degree at the Missouri School of Journalism, and he has blogged for Covering Health ever since.

When a local hospital opened up a free-standing emergency room in a part of the county traditionally served by its competitors, The Palm Beach Post‘s Bill DiPaolo took a look at the economic motivations behind this move and similar ones around the country.

Standalone emergency rooms, which offer more options than urgent care facilities but still must transfer patients to full-size hospitals for more serious treatment, started cropping up in rural areas about two decades ago, DiPaolo writes. They are attractive to hospitals because they allow them to expand their coverage area at a fraction of the cost of building a full new facility. There are six in Florida alone, partly because hospitals can build them without acquiring the state “certificate of need” required for the construction of a full hospital.

The hospital that opened the ER in Palm Beach County says it is filling a local need and increasing its competitiveness, but its rivals claim the new facility could bring higher costs — because patients may be taken there instead of to urgent-care facilities — and lower quality — because transit times may increase for patients who arrive at the ER but must then be moved to a full hospital for further treatment.