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The Impact of Conversion From an Urgent Care Center to a Freestanding Emergency Department on Patient Population, Conditions Managed, and Reimbursement

      Abstract

      Background

      Freestanding emergency departments (FSEDs), EDs not attached to acute care hospitals, are expanding. One key question is whether FSEDs are more similar to higher-cost hospital-based EDs or to lower-cost urgent care centers (UCCs).

      Objective

      Our aim was to determine whether there was a change in patient population, conditions managed, and reimbursement among three facilities that converted from a UCC to an FSED.

      Methods

      Using insurance claims from Blue Cross Blue Shield of Texas, we compared outcomes of interest for three facilities that converted from a UCC to an FSED for 1 year before and after conversion.

      Results

      There was no significant change in age, sex, and comorbidities among patients treated after conversion. Conditions were similar after conversion, though there was a small increase in visits for potentially more severe conditions. For example, the most common diagnoses before and after conversion were upper respiratory infections (42.8% of UCC visits, 26.0% of FSED visits), while chest pain increased from rank 30 to 10 (0.5% of UCC visits, 2.3% of FSED visits). Yearly number of visits decreased after conversion, while median reimbursement per visit increased (facility A: $148 to $2,153; facility B: $137 to $1,466; and facility C: $131 to $1,925) and total revenue increased (facility A: $1,389,590 to $1,486,203; facility B: $896,591 to $4,294,636; and facility C: $637,585 to $8,429,828).

      Conclusions

      After three UCCs converted to FSEDs, patient volume decreased and reimbursement per visit increased, despite no change in patient characteristics and little change in conditions managed. These case studies suggest that some FSEDs are similar to UCCs in patient mix and conditions treated.

      Keywords

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