A Costly Mistake: Understanding the difference between urgent and emergency care

Several new medical offices have popped up in the Richmond area that offer emergency care, but are not physically connected to hospitals. These freestanding emergency centers may treat acute minor injuries and illnesses—in addition to providing care for seriously ill patients—but at much greater cost than urgent care facilities like BetterMed.

NBC 12 in Richmond recently ran a special report, “Surprise Medical Bills,” concerning a mother who was hit with a hefty medical bill after her son received treatment for a minor injury from the one of these new emergency centers. In the report, which was broadcast May 22, the mother shares with reporter Rachel DePompa that she paid almost $2,000 for just 20 minutes of care. The report stresses the importance of understanding the difference between urgent care and freestanding emergency centers, which are less cost-effective.

“When you go to an urgent care center, it’s similar to going to your primary care doctor’s office or your cardiologist. It’s really just an office-based fee that you’re going to pay,” explains Mark Rausch, M.D., Medical Director and Group Medical Officer for BetterMed Urgent Care.

By contrast, in emergency rooms, including the freestanding centers, “You’re going to see an emergency physician and he’s going to charge you for your visit and then you’re going to get charged by the hospital for a facility fee and those fees can be rather exorbitant—up to 8-10 times more expensive than if you went to an urgent care center.”

In addition to cost savings, BetterMed offers patients convenient access to care in new facilities that are staffed by highly trained providers, he says. “We’re very proud that all of our providers have at least three years of emergency medicine experience. They’re more than capable to handle any of the minor acute injuries or illnesses that you will see at BetterMed.”

BetterMed has a 98% patient satisfaction rate—the highest among urgent care centers in the Richmond area. There are six area locations open 7 days a week, from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m., with an average wait time of less than one hour. Appointments are not necessary—walk-ins are always welcome. For those who would like to avoid a wait, online scheduling is available.

To view the special report, please visit www.nbc12.com/story/35471195/special-report-surprise-medical-bills