Hospitals hope to save money by pre-screening ER patients

Halifax Health is implementing a new policy that it hopes will save the Florida hospital money: pre-screening patients before they enter the emergency room to make sure they have real medical emergencies.

Patients aged 18 to 64 who visit Halifax's Daytona Beach and Port Orange ERs for non-urgent care (as determined by a physician or a physician's assistant) will be redirected to an onsite health clinic that charges $48, or they will be given community health resources, reports the Daytona Beach News-Journal.

Non-emergent care patients can still get the ER visit, but only after they pay their insurance co-pay or $350. However, patients with a true emergency will not be required to pay up-front, in compliance with federal law, notes the News-Journal.

The pre-screening policy is catching on at hospitals around the country, given that emergency rooms have been identified as a driving force of rising healthcare costs.

Yet, the American College of Emergency Physicians maintains that such a policy won't save Halifax or other hospitals money. Emergency care only accounts for 2 percent of national healthcare costs, and non-urgent patients represent less than 8 percent of ER visits nationwide, College spokesman Michael Baldyga told the News-Journal.

But the policy may provide benefits beyond cost cutting. It could free up needed medical staff. Pre-screening patients and redirecting those who are not facing a true emergency could help ease ER overcrowding and the resulting care problems.

"It's about getting the right care at the right time in the right location," said Arvin Lewis, Halifax's director of patient business and financial services.

For more:
- read the Daytona Beach News-Journal article