Ask Nurse Jessica: Are Freestanding Emergency Rooms Covered by Valencia’s UnitedHealthcare Plans?

Monday, October 4, 2021

A Message from Jessica Johnson, UnitedHealthcare Nurse Liaison 

Welcome to my monthly column, Ask Nurse Jessica. Since joining Valencia College as your full-time UnitedHealthcare (UHC) nurse liaison, I’ve received numerous questions about how I can help you and your family make better healthcare decisions, provide support and clarification on UHC benefits; demonstrate how to navigate UHC tools and resources; refer you to appropriate wellness programs and services; provide support for chronic illnesses. 

This column is designed to answer those questions. If you would like to ask a question, simply email me with “Ask Nurse Jessica” in the subject line. Submissions will be anonymous in The Juice and The Grove and will be addressed monthly as they are received. 

You may have noticed freestanding emergency rooms popping up in many of our Central Florida communities. I’ve been asked, do our Valencia College United Healthcare (UHC) plans cover a visit to a freestanding ER? Yes, the Valencia College UHC plans include the freestanding ERs, as long as they are in-network providers. You can find in-network providers by signing in to myuhc.com, selecting Find Care and Costs, and filtering your search to include emergency room locations.

A freestanding ER provides emergency medical services at a place outside a regular hospital campus. It is not attached to a hospital or even located near one, but it can treat any of the conditions a hospital-based ER can. Both freestanding and hospital ERs are open 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The staff at both will include emergency medicine doctors, emergency nurses, laboratory technicians and radiology technicians. They can both handle potentially life-threatening conditions, including bleeding, fractures, respiratory problems, heart attack and stroke.

Freestanding ERs are owned either by a hospital or a private organization/company. Although a hospital-owned ER is not physically attached to the hospital that owns it, the hospital operates and staffs the freestanding ER. In contrast, an independently owned (private) ER is not part of a hospital or health system. The doctors, nurses and other personnel are private employees.

Keep in mind, a freestanding ER is not the same as an urgent care center. A freestanding ER can treat any of the conditions a hospital-based ER could. An urgent care can only treat minor injuries and illnesses.

Here are frequently asked questions and answers about freestanding ERs:

What is the cost? Is it the same as a regular ER visit?
Your cost is dependent on your specific UHC plan, but yes, it is the same cost as if you were to visit an emergency department located in a hospital setting. Again, you can sign in to myuhc.com to find out your copay or cost for emergency care.

What happens if you’re admitted at a freestanding ER, if its affiliated hospital is not nearby?
At a freestanding ER, an ambulance will need to transport you to the hospital if you need to be admitted as an inpatient to the hospital. These facilities usually have agreements with local hospitals to transfer patients who need inpatient care. These transfers can happen very quickly, even for emergencies like a stroke or heart attack.

When they first started, freestanding ERs filled a need for emergency services in rural areas. Today, they are popping up in suburban areas and neighborhoods. There are actually freestanding emergency rooms located near shopping centers, which makes it much easier to visit for a lot of people. Plus, they are also able to provide speedier care, since they have no long lines unlike traditional hospital emergency rooms.

What are the advantages of a freestanding ER vs. a traditional hospital emergency room?
Shorter waiting times are commonly found at a freestanding ER. Traditional emergency rooms have earned themselves a bad reputation for making patients wait in line for too long. In freestanding emergency rooms, the staff are always on hand to serve the patients streaming in, and the wait times are generally shorter.

The other advantage of freestanding emergency rooms is that they are often located closer to neighborhoods and are therefore accessible to most people. In the past few years, the only real option one had in case of an emergency was the hospital’s emergency department, and a lot of hospitals were a fair distance out. This meant that a lot of medical emergencies ended up unreported. Thanks to freestanding emergency rooms coming closer to the people, reporting medical emergencies has become easier than ever. People can access the medical care services whenever they need them, and this has consequently improved the health standards in the country.

The beauty of a freestanding emergency room is that you won’t have to worry about finding it closed at night or during national holidays, like you would an urgent care center or your primary care provider. These emergency rooms are staffed and equipped to operate for 24 hours a day, seven days a week all year long.

Freestanding emergency rooms, are staffed by board-certified physicians and registered nurses. At all times, you are guaranteed of seeing a physician and getting high-quality medical care. These emergency rooms are also properly equipped and have the necessary medical facilities and equipment to handle every possible medical condition.

And so, when comparing a freestanding emergency room and hospital emergency room, you can be assured that they are relatively similar, as they are able to provide the same benefits to patients – from doctors, to the facilities, to the technology, and to the quality of care.

In summary, for serious or potentially life-threatening injuries or illnesses, an ER is the safest choice for medical care. When deciding whether to go to the hospital’s ER or a freestanding ER, it really comes down to distance. The purpose of a freestanding ER is to provide potentially life-saving care closer to home. When hospitals are not nearby, this can mean faster care for you and your loved ones when minutes matter.

For a comparison of when to visit your primary care provider, urgent care, the emergency room or use a virtual visit, click here.

If you have any questions, contact me at jessica_r_johnson@uhc.com or 407- 866-8134.

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