Ill? Free-Standing ERs May Not Be Your Most Economic Option, Survey Finds

A new report finds that Coloradans use free-standing emergency departments for conditions that are not life-threatening and it costs them more than treatment elsewhere.

A non-profit organization called the Center for Improving Value in Health Care published the survey after looking at health insurance claims from 2014.

Funded by the Colorado Health Foundation, The Colorado Trust, and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, it administers the Colorado All Payer Claims Database.

In Colorado, there are 37 of these free-standing emergency departments, which are often owned by hospital systems and located around suburban shopping malls. Seven of the top 10 reasons people sought care in those facilities were for common conditions like a sore throat or ear infection.

Ana English,Center for Improving Value in Health Care’s CEO, says going to emergency departments costs more than going to a doctor’s office or urgent care center, and "there really needs to be an increased awareness that there is a difference.”

The report found, for example, getting care for bronchitis can cost nearly 10 times at much at an emergency facility.

The Colorado Hospital Association says emergency departments are prepared to provide specialized care, making it the most expensive type of care.