Should standalone EDs use 'urgent care' in names?

KFF Health News' latest investigation into surprise medical bills poses an intriguing question for the industry: Should freestanding emergency departments be able to use "urgent care" in their names? 

Dallas-based Parkland Health and Hospital System operates a freestanding emergency department on its campus called the Urgent Care Emergency Center. The center opened in 2015 to supplement its main ED, located about 40 yards away, which records the most visits of any hospital nationwide. Though the facility includes heavy signage to inform patients about its status as an emergency room and associated fees, some patients and experts claim the inclusion of "urgent care" is misleading.

One such patient, Tieqiao Zhang, visited the facility twice last December and was diagnosed with a kidney stone. Mr. Zhang was charged a $500 copay for each visit, amounting to $1,000 in out-of-pocket costs.

"It's like being tricked," Mr. Zhang said of the fees, as he believed he was visiting an urgent care facility. He says the front desk did not notify him of the $500 copays. 

Michael Malaise, a spokesperson for Parkland Health, said the system is "very transparent" about the center's emergency room status, with notices posted in the lobby, hallways and treatment rooms. The facility's name, Urgent Care Emergency Center, also aims to prevent first responders and patients requiring urgent, life-saving care from visiting the standalone facility, versus its main ED, he added. 

This example points to the persistent challenge of ensuring price transparency at freestanding EDs. Ateev Mehrotra, MD, a healthcare policy professor at Boston-based Harvard Medical School, said the responsibility still falls largely on patients to identify the correct care setting, which can be difficult when facility names are unclear. He told KFF Health News that states could eliminate confusion by banning use of the term "urgent care" for freestanding EDs.

Read the full article here.

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