Education diverts patients to less-costly ER alternatives

Giving patients guidance, even simply giving them directions to the nearest emergency department alternative, can redirect nonurgent patients away from the hospital ED, according to research from HealthCore, WellPoint's health outcomes research firm.

An educational campaign, with help from Google Maps, led to a 17 percent drop in nonemergency visits in six months for 32,000 WellPoint members in Connecticut, American Medical News reported.

Moreover, the analysis shows that hospitals can guide patients' behavior and keep them out of the ED, rather than hiking copays. The findings could deter hospitals from targeting patients' wallets to curb ED visits, such as Florida's Halifax Health, which allows nonemergent care patients to get visit the ER only after they pay their insurance copay or $350.

High copays may not dissuade wealthy patients from unnecessarily visiting the ED, amednews noted.

"The Connecticut program only used education to encourage members to use walk-in clinics or retail health clinics, and we still saw consumers using the ER less for nonemergent conditions, such as ear infections, that can be treated by walk-in centers or retail health clinics," HealthCore's Winnie Li said in a statement last month. 

Educating patients about less-costly alternatives may ease ED overcrowding, but it may not recoup the most healthcare dollars, according to a paper published Thursday in Annals of Emergency Medicine. Researchers say that reducing hospital admissions for patients already in the ED has more potential cost savings than diverting nonurgent ED visits.

For more:
- read the amednews article
- here's the research announcement