Over the years hospitals across the nation have implemented the pay-first policy in an effort to divert patients with routine illnesses from the Emergency Room (ER) after they undergo a federally required screening. In the ER at Lehigh Regional Medical Center, patients undergo a federally-required medical exam by a qualified medical professional to determine if their symptoms are potentially life-threatening or not. If they do meet the criteria, further treatment will be initiated. If the initial medical screening determines that their reason for receiving care is not considered a true emergency, they will be asked to make a payment upfront. Patients who decline the up-front payment are given a list of primary care providers or walk-in clinics in the area.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says, “That about 8 percent of ER visits are for non-urgent problems that could be treated less expensively in a doctor’s office or a walk-in clinic.” In a 2010 Health Affairs study, “Found that 27 percent of those visiting an ER could be treated more cost-effectively at a doctor’s office or through a walk-in clinic.” Gary Bell, CEO of Lehigh Regional Medical Center states, “A lot of this is really about educating the community on proper usage of the ER and what other community resources are available. Our ER is not a walk-in clinic.”