ER use, hospitalizations drop when patients receive treatment from one primary care doc

Patients who see the same primary care doctor are less likely to seek treatment in the emergency room and are hospitalized less frequently than those who visit multiple providers, according to a study published in Health Affairs. The study, conducted by the UCLA Center for Health Policy Research, analyzed data  from doctor's visits made by 49,000 low-income previously uninsured adults from September 2008 to August 2010, as part of a county-run health program in Orange County, California. During the first year, patients weren't required to always use their chosen doctor and could change providers at any time. But patients who switched and saw multiple providers had a higher number of emergency room visits because the various doctors couldn't properly track the patients' health concerns, researchers found. The policy changed in the second year and patients could only see their chosen doctor. If they saw a different provider for non-urgent primary care, that doctor wasn't reimbursed. The results were a drop in emergency room visits and hospitalizations. "The more familiar a doctor is with a patient's medical history and their chronic or complex conditions, the more successful the patient's overall care is likely to be and fewer ER visits are likely," Nadereh Pourat, the center's director of research, said in a research announcement. "A 1 or 2 percentage-point decline in emergency room use can mean significant savings." Study announcement