'Street medicine' can cut down on ER 'super-users'

"Street medicine"--essentially making house calls to the homeless-- is apparently an effective way for hospitals to cut costs regarding the patients most likely to make repeat visits to the emergency room, according to the Associated Press.

The Lehigh Valley Health Network is employing physician assistants to go into the streets of Allentown to provide medical care to the city's homeless population. It is one of approximately 60 street medicine programs being operated in the United States, the wire service reported. In recent years, more of those programs are being operated by or are directly associated with hospitals.

Street medicine programs appear to be a more direct form of intervention by hospitals and social agencies in stemming so-called ER "super users." One example includes using social workers to ensure that those with diabetes and other chronic conditions have their utility bills paid so their physical health does not erode. 

In addition to costing hospitals more money than treating other patients, super users are often at much higher risk for death than other patients, data show.

Not only are the homeless receiving regular care through such programs, but the outreach workers often help to enroll the street medicine patients into insurance programs such as Medicaid. As a result, Lehigh Valley has been able to reduce its 30-day readmission rates from 51 percent to 13 percent since it rolled out the street medicine program. Moreover, the insured rate among its homeless patients has risen from 24 percent to 73 percent.

To learn more:
- read the AP article