Missouri City has seen an increase in the number of freestanding emergency rooms and urgent care clinics in the last couple of months.
Those new facilities include two First Choice Emergency Room locations, Sphier Emergency Room, Next Level Urgent Care and Houston Methodist Sienna Plantation Emergency Care Center. In addition, Memorial Hermann has broken ground on a stand-alone emergency room.
Recent population growth in the area has been a draw for companies that specialize in treating injuries and illnesses, said Claire Gibson, spokeswoman for First Choice Emergency Room.
"With growth in neighborhoods and population added, the current health care system is overburdened," Gibson said. "And so First Choice Emergency Room is a great, convenient neighborhood access point for emergency medical care."
Understanding the differences
Although both freestanding emergency rooms and urgent care centers share some similarities, such as treating patients outside of the traditional hospital setting, they have striking differences.
"Freestanding emergency rooms are licensed by the state; urgent cares are not," Gibson said. "We're open 24/7; urgent cares are not. [Urgent cares] typically have limited hours. We're staffed by board-certified physicians and emergency-trained registered nurses 24/7. Typically at an urgent care, you're seen by a nurse practitioner. We're equipped and staffed to handle higher acuity patients."
Stand-alone emergency rooms are designed to handle the same types of injuries and illnesses that hospital emergency rooms manage. Urgent care facilities are not equipped to deal with life-threatening ailments, but they can handle illnesses and injuries ranging from fevers to broken bones.
"ERs definitely have a place," said Rafik Sandford, director of marketing for Next Level Urgent Care. "There's a great place for ERs. They do a lot of great stuff; they save a lot of lives. But not everything needs to be treated in the ER."
The prices vary as well. Treatment at an urgent care facility typically has lower copays than either a free-standing or traditional emergency room.
Next Level Urgent Care, which is based in Sugar Land, opened in Missouri City in 2013 to be in an area with families, Sandford said.
"Because we're strictly an urgent care, we don't [offer] any primary care," Sandford said. "We wanted to be able to help everybody in the family if they were feeling ill or had a broken bone or had just allergies. We are there to help them."
Next Level does not treat life-threatening illnesses or injuries, such as heart attacks or loss of limb.
"[If] somebody walks in our clinic and they have any of those issues, we will stabilize them and get them to an ER," Sandford said. "But we also don't charge them for that visit. If you're beyond our scope of care, we're not going to charge you."
The urgent care clinic also puts a cap on its medical procedures of about $200, Sandford said.
Freestanding ER options
At First Choice Emergency Room's Missouri City locations, board-certified physicians work in what Gibson termed a "true ER"—a facility that features the same equipment as a hospital ER. With that equipment, technicians can provide a quick turnaround on most test results.
"That's one of the things that we pride ourselves on, is being able to give really personal, focused and, quite frankly, efficient care to local communities," Gibson said. "We're able to get radiology reports back in an average of 30 [minutes] because nobody wants to be sitting for hours waiting to know what's going on."
First Choice ERs have an average of six to eight rooms. Missouri City has seven treatment rooms, including a dedicated pediatrics room, Gibson said.
Close by, Sphier Emergency Room has the ability to treat adults and children who have injuries ranging from broken bones to breathing problems to cardiac issues. Sphier also has the same equipment as a hospital ER and is open 24/7.
The stand-alone Houston Methodist Emergency Care Center opened in July, and it features 10 private rooms.
Because of its affiliation with Houston Methodist Sugar Land Hospital, patients will be able to have expedited admission to the hospital and help scheduling follow-up appointments if needed.