Hospitals brace for ED overload, enhance primary care

New research in the Archives of Ophthalmology warns hospitals to prepare for an overload of emergency department (ED) visits after health reform kicks in.

Florida hospital EDs already saw patients eligible for Medicaid jump 6 percent between 2005 and 2009, well before millions of Americans are expected to gain health insurance in 2014, reported The Tampa Tribune.

According to the study, out of the 587,000 analyzed ED visits for eye care, more than a third (31 percent) of patients had commercial insurance, more than a fifth (22 percent) had Medicaid coverage, and about a quarter (26 percent) were self-pay.

Meanwhile, approximately 68 percent of emergency physicians in Massachusetts saw an uptick in visits due to the state's universal health plan, the model for national health reform, according to a 2009 survey, noted The News-Press.

But not everyone is convinced health reform will lead to overcrowded EDs. That may be because the reform law focuses on boosting primary care services to direct non-emergent patients to less costly channels, according to The Gainesville Sun.

"If we can get people covered (with insurance), get them in a network of care, get them a provider who knows their name, we're going to be a lot better off," said Anton Gunn, regional director of the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, reported the Sun.

With that approach in mind, North Florida Regional Medical Center has started hiring more primary care doctors.

Similarly, Florida's Lee Memorial Health System this year opened clinics to provide primary care at a reduced or free price, hoping to ease ED visits, according to The News-Press. So far, health system officials said only two of 405 under-insured patients who used one of the clinics later went to the ED for treatment.

To learn more:
- read the Tampa Tribune article
- check out the Gainesville Sun article
- read the News-Press article