Five facts about freestanding emergency departments

Health care delivery has changed dramatically over the past few decades. Many services once delivered within hospitals are now provided in outpatient (aka ambulatory) settings.

Freestanding emergency departments have played a major role. In 2015, there were 387 off-campus emergency departments operated by 323 hospitals — a 76 percent increase from 2008-2013, according to the Advisory Group, a company that advises the health care industry regarding commercial real estate.

Lenox Health Greenwich Village was Manhattan’s first freestanding emergency department, opening its doors in 2014. The facility has since added several outpatient practices and services.

Here are five things to know about how freestanding emergency departments have impacted health care.

1. Filling shortages

Freestanding emergency departments work well in neighborhoods and areas where hospitals have closed. The burst of ambulatory care and shift to value-based models have caused hospitals to shutter. Devastating to communities, the health care void trickles down to physician practices, leaving residents with limited access to health and wellness services.

2. Integrated services

Integrated ambulatory networks, including freestanding EDs, propel strong multidirectional referrals between primary care physicians, between specialists and between specialty and primary care clinicians. Patients need to be linked to the health care services they need. Patients with chronic and critical conditions entering freestanding emergency departments can be transferred to hospitals for advanced care. For example, Lenox Health Greenwich Village has brought many patients needing additional services to Lenox Hill Hospital.

3. Comfortable settings

While new in concept, freestanding emergency departments are modern, cleaner, more welcoming and aesthetically pleasing. Patients no longer need to be treated in old, rundown health care settings.

4. Patient-centered care

Driving success has been efficiency, which has led to smooth patient flow due to having the proper equipment (CT, ultrasound and X-ray) within the emergency department. The vast majority of patients are treated and released. Since 2014, only six percent of patients at Lenox Health Greenwich Village required inpatient hospital care.

5. Telehealth

Telehealth is becoming vital to innovating health care. For community hospitals and facilities like Lenox Health Greenwich Village with limited in-patient resources, telehealth has given patients access to specialists in a variety of fields, round-the-clock. Telepsych has also become a very important tool for patients and providers for quick evaluation and care, especially in freestanding emergency departments.

Alexander Hellinger, DPT, is executive director of Lenox Health Greenwich Village, where he oversees operations and development. Dr. Hellinger was instrumental in the construction and expansion of the facility. He was previously associate executive director of clinical services at Long Island Jewish Valley Stream.