Navigating through Lubbock's healthcare options

Navigating through Lubbock's healthcare options

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LUBBOCK, Texas -

Lubbock is blessed with several different areas of care. It's a "medical hub" for a reason.

With two hospitals, primary care clinics, urgent care centers and free-standing ER's on many corners, you might be confused on where you should go and if you can even afford the care.

Emergency centers

The Emergency Centers at Covenant Health and University Medical Center are just that -- for major emergencies. 

"ER's need to be reserved for true emergencies. People who have traumatic events, heart attacks, those type of things. Only about 30 percent of people who are in an ER at any one time actually need to be there," Eric Finley, UMC spokesman said.

Finley said most people don't utilize the ER's the right way, adding to the wait times.

"A lot of the problem is that people are using ER's for their primary care physicians. There's still a lot of people that are uninsured and so they see this as a safety net and it's highly utilized at times. That's a drag on the system."

Covenant Health also faces a similar back up.

"People are going to the ER because it's the most convenient, accessible place that they see," Walter Cathey, Covenant Health CEO said.

Federal law called "EMTALA" law dictates ER doctors have to see anyone who walks in, generally speaking.

"Everybody knows that you can go into an emergency department and get seen, but it's not the best place for care. It's not the most appropriate place for that type of care," Cathey said.

If you go to the ER thinking it's a free pass for healthcare, you might be surprised later on. 

"If they show up and they can't pay for it, we're still going to stabilize that person, that's our mission [at UMC], that's our value, we want to do that. We want to do that though in a way that's economically feasible for them," Finley said. "Even though we don't require money up front, we're still going to bill that patient. If they can't pay it, that has long term implications financially, it wrecks their credit, etc."

It's a learning experience for both patients and physicians.

"What we really need to figure out is how to treat people at right place, right time, right location," Cathey said. "When we can get that down, we will have abundance of access and people getting seen more timely to take care of their issues."

Free-standing emergency rooms

If you're having a true emergency, you can also consider a free-standing emergency room.

"[Neighbors Emergency Center] is very unique because it's not an urgent care. We take care of heart attacks, chest pains, strokes, abdominal pains, fractures, bad infections, you name it," James Williams, Neighbors Emergency Center Medical Director said.

With FSER'S, you need to check with your insurance company to determine the billing process. It's a case by case basis. If your insurance company hasn't negotiated rates with the facility, it may be considered "out of network" and you'll have to pay more out of pocket for what your insurance doesn't cover.

"We understand healthcare is costly, that people have high deductibles. What I don't want to do is have somebody have a high, unexpected bill," Williams said.

According to a recent study by the Annals of Emergency Medicine, costs in 2015 for freestanding and hospital-based ER's were comparable.

"If you look at a chest pain seen here [at Neighbors] and or a chest pain seen at the hospital, the cost is the same," Williams said.

Like the hospital ER's, free-standing emergency rooms will determine whether you really need emergent care. 

"Although there may be a convenience factor for some things, it's not necessarily that you want to pay for that. We help them understand what their healthcare needs really are," Williams said. "So if they have a problem, we do a medical screening exam if they need one. If it's clear that it's something that doesn't need this level of care, we can refer them to an urgent care center."

Urgent care centers or primary care clinics

Lubbock is home to several different urgent care clinics, and primary cares for family medicine. Many of them are associated with either Covenant Health or UMC. Grace Clinic is also a viable option. 

Cathey said urgent cares should be reserved for ailments, injuries, or illnesses that need to be addressed within a 24 hour period. Family medicine PCP's are for everything else.

For the under insured, Cathey said you can still get help at a primary care or urgent care clinic.

"Actually it'll end up saving them some money down the road, whether they have insurance or not," Cathey said. "[Primary and urgent cares] are the best options for certain ailments that you have or certain injuries that you might have and they definitely are a cheaper option for the consumer as well."

For the uninsured

There are several options for care for those uninsured Lubbock residents.

"It's really important to look at some of these clinics to find that medical home," Katherine Wells, Lubbock Health Department Director said. "That place that you can go to for all your different illnesses. Then if you need to, you can get referred to a specialist."

Lubbock Children's Health Clinic, Larry Combest Health and Wellness Center and Community Health Centers of Lubbock all have programs to provide primary care. Some facilities use a sliding scale fee based on proof of income. Wells said based on your income, your charges will be discounted.

"There are navigators [with Larry Combest Center] out in our community that can help people find out what insurance they might be eligible for or if they're eligible for Texas Medicaid or Medicare."

The Lubbock Health Department also has low-cost vaccinations and STD testings.

It's the mission of healthcare providers to treat patients will the highest possible care. So, the next time you're thinking of entering the doors of the emergency center, consider the cost factor and severity of your illness before anything else. 

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