The Center for Podiatric Care and Sports Medicine

Podiatrist vs. ER: Should You Go to the Hospital for a Sprained Ankle or Other Foot Injury?

Posted by on Friday, April 6th, 2018

People tend to think of podiatrists as “the place you go for bunions and plantar warts,” not ankle or foot injury. Here at The Center for Podiatric Care and Sports Medicine, we actually see a lot of patients with acute trauma such as ankle sprains, broken foot bones, and torn Achilles tendons. Should you go to the hospital for a sprained ankle or other foot injury, the trip could end up being even more painful.

Should You Go to the Hospital for a Sprained Ankle
NYC podiatrists reveal why it makes financial sense to see them for a sprained ankle or foot injury instead of the ER. [Image Source: Flickr user MrTMan]

A Trip To The ER Can Be Pricey

Back in January 2015, a mom accidentally cut the tip of her one-year-old daughter’s finger with nail clippers. The good news is that all was resolved with a five-minute visit to the emergency room. The bad news: the family got a bill in the mail for $629 to cover the cost of a bandage. In their analysis of 70 million emergency room bills, VOX investigators found that the cover charge to walk into the ER—the so-called “facilities fee”—has gone up 89% in the last six years.

The ungodly expensive bandage was one of many similar anecdotes. In another, a man with a horrific cramp went in at 1 a.m. when he couldn’t sleep. They sent him home with a muscle relaxant and a $2,400 bill. There are no posted prices at emergency rooms. We’re just told to “trust the free market.”

Should You Go To The Hospital For A Sprained Ankle or Other Foot Injury?

Surprisingly, ankle sprains are one of the most common reasons for visiting the ER, though, oftentimes people needn’t seek emergency medical attention. Specialist care facilities that accept walk-ins will do are just fine. If you make the wrong choice on where to seek treatment for a broken foot or an ankle sprain, it could cost you dearly.

One NIH-funded study found that the cost of treating a sprained ankle in the emergency room varied from $4 to $24,110. The mean cost was $1,498. Another man who had his broken foot treated at the ER verified that he paid about $1,500 extra for the facility fees, x-rays, and pain medications. By comparison, Podiatry Post reports the average cost of treating a sprained ankle at a podiatry clinic as $400-$500, which includes the podiatrist fee, x-ray, ankle stirrup, and Level 3 E&M coding.

What About NYC Urgent Care?

Many people are flooding into NYC urgent care centers, rather than emergency rooms, but there is no guarantee you’ll pay less. “When you walk into any given urgent care center, two things matter: who owns it and what insurance you have,” writes Beth Pinsker for ReutersThere are over 10,000 urgent care centers in America, offering cheaper and faster immediate care. Even if your insurer states to cover the co-pay, there may still be facility fees, add-ons, specialist up-charges, and procedure costs.

Even if the back of your insurance card states clearly that an urgent care visit will cost you a fixed-amount co-pay (anywhere from $30 to $100), there could also be charges for individual procedures, hundreds of dollars in facility fees or other add-ons. For those with co-insurance, out-of-pocket deductibles of $1,200 or higher are not uncommon. Most urgent care centers in New York City like to keep patient bills between $125 and $400, but there is no transparency and no guarantee.

How To Cope With A High ER Bill

If you already sought emergency room care and now suffer the consequences, there are a few things you can do about your bill:

  • Call the hospital billing department. If something looks wrong on your bill, do not be afraid to question it.
  • Bargain it down. If you’re asked to pay more than you can afford, see if the hospital can discount for private paying patients.
  • Act quickly to resolve. Once your bill goes to collections, your credit score and financing options will take a hit.
  • Offer a lump sum. Ask if you agree to pay 30% now if the hospital will agree to write off the rest.
  • Inquire about a payment plan. If you can’t pay much now, ask about making a good faith payment and a monthly plan.
  • Work with a pro. Contact Medical Billing Advocates of America to reach experts in detecting medical billing errors.

See An NYC Podiatrist Instead

The Center for Podiatric Care and Sports Medicine of New York City offers same-day appointments without referrals for foot and ankle related injuries. We have an office in Manhattan near Central Park and another on Mitchell Place in White Plains for your convenience. You needn’t pay exorbitant facilities fees to see a specialist with four decades of experience in your insurance network. We discuss all pricing with you up front so there are no surprises later. Contact us today!

If you have any foot problems or pain, contact The Center for Podiatric Care and Sports MedicineDr. Josef J. GeldwertDr. Katherine Lai, Dr. Ryan Minara and Dr. Mariola Rivera have helped thousands of people get back on their feet. Unfortunately, we cannot give diagnoses or treatment advice online. Please make an appointment to see us if you live in the NY metropolitan area or seek out a podiatrist in your area.