How Freestanding Emergency Centers can Boost Healthcare Access in Rural Texas
The last couple of decades have been characterized by a huge number of hospitals in the rural areas of the United States being closed down. In fact, a study that was conducted in the year 2016 revealed that more than 650 rural hospitals in various states in the United States, including those in Texas, were at risk of closure. This is due to them operating at a loss. Hospitals can only survive if they can serve as many patients as possible and the fact that rural areas are not as densely populated as the urban areas, the rural hospitals become more vulnerable to closure.
While some of these hospitals may apply for subsidy support and CAH designation, the support is never enough for the hospitals to maintain solvency. It has, therefore, become rather critical to find another option to address this looming crisis and Bellaire ER sees Freestanding Emergency Centers are the way to go. Generally, rural areas have lower cases and demand for inpatient medical care, but when you consider the Freestanding Emergency Centers, they have a higher patient volume and a lower cost structure as compared to hospitals.
The current legislation and the regulatory restrictions set by the Texas government limit the extent to which the freestanding emergency centers can help provide reliable and sustainable healthcare services to residents of rural Texas like West Texas. FECs that are not affiliated with an all-service hospital are not considered by the Centers for Medicaid and Medicare Services. This means that these FECs do not receive the reimbursement that is provided to the Medicare or Medicaid patients. The same laws and regulations still require all Emergency Centers to provide treatment to every patient they receive regardless of their ability to cater for their medical bills. This makes running an FEC quite unsustainable.
Another hindrance created by the law is that a hospital cannot open an FEC beyond a 35-mile radius from where the hospital is located. This limits hospitals that would want to establish more FECs that are accessible to more people.
Considering the fact that freestanding emergency centers offer medical care of an admirable quality that is appealing to patients, it is important that the legislators look at them from a different perspective. This is because they have great value that can lead to better healthcare access to patients in the rural areas of Texas. Here are some of the possible ways FECs will benefit the healthcare scene.
Providing targeted care
FECs are better suited to provide fragmented healthcare that can help easily connect patients with health care closer to their home. The major challenge when it comes to healthcare in rural areas is access. Also, when you consider that fact that about 75% to 85% of patients who visit emergency rooms in hospitals do not require admission and are usually discharged, FECs are a much better option for the patients who require admission can be admitted there for a short while. If further medical observation is required for a period that exceeds 23 hours, they can be transferred to a full-service hospital.
2. Freestanding Emergency Centers are an alternative to hospitalization
Given that about 10% percent of patients require specialized care and observation but not an admission, FECs can offer such patients initial care and short-stay admissions in a facility that is closer to home at a lower cost. With this, they still get the same quality of care and treatment that they would have received in a full-service hospital. They also get to save time and transportation costs and be closer to their loved ones.
3. Pioneer new models of pricing and payments
When you visit an FEC, you will be charged for the emergency-level facility regardless of the ailment you are suffering from. But in a state like Minnesota, there is an FEC that charges the facility fees differently depending on the degree of ailment. For instance, a person who visits the ER for a sore throat will not be charged the facility fee similar to the person who has been admitted for a stroke. This can make FECs more appealing and more affordable to patients in the rural areas. They are better suited to pioneer more effective pricing and payment models for the benefit of the patients.
4. Primary and Specialty care providers
Another way FECs can be flexible is by being a more reliable extension of outpatient services as opposed to the inpatient door-to-door ward. They can provide medical services in a more varied setting, even a home setting. Partnering with providers for primary and specialty care in creative ways can help strengthen the access of rural Texas residents to reliable medical services without them having to seek admission at a hospital.
It is quite important for the government of Texas to pave the way for better medical access for rural patients by amending legislation that cripples their establishment and operation of FECs as they are a gateway to timely, high-quality and highly accessible medical care.