Hospitals balance advertising ED wait times, cutting improper use

It's a tightrope that hospitals walk on; they balance curbed Medicaid spending, goals to reduce emergency department (ED) use, while at the same time admit patients through the ED to boost revenue, reports Kaiser Health News and The Washington Post.

After implementing a state-funded program to cut ED use, Oregon successfully reduced ED visits by half, saving Medicaid $1 million, officials said in the article.

However, hospitals must carry the weight of nationwide initiatives to cut inappropriate emergency room (ER) use to save Medicaid dollars, as well as find sources of additional revenue. As 24 states prepare to cut $4.7 billion in Medicaid programs, many hospitals are stuck with the funding gap. Institutions may feel pressured to advertise ED use, get admissions, and offset the budget woes, according to the article.

"Many hospitals are actively recruiting people to come to the ER for non-emergency reasons," said Anthony Keck, South Carolina's Medicaid director, about highlighting ER services on highway billboards. "When you are advertising on billboards that your ER wait time is three minutes, you are not advertising to stroke and heart attack victims," he said.

However, HCA, who launched a marketing campaign in Virginia, Florida, and Texas, said its billboards that advertise average ER wait times are not a tactic to lure nonemergent cases, according to the article. Tenet Healthcare Corp. also responded that its billboard wait times provide convenience to patients.

In addition, emergency rooms are now adding texting services to highlight up-to-date wait times while patients are en route to the hospital, reports American Medical News.

As hospitals continue to hold the to-post-or-not-to-post debate, a new Academic Emergency Medicine study suggests that better evaluation during ED triage can help hospitals decide whether patients "deserve" to be admitted with allocated resources, thus reducing ED overcrowding.

For more:
- read the Kaiser-Post article
- check out AMA article
- here's the study abstract

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