Trend: Hospitals pre-screen, divert ER patients to cut visits

With research showing that up to 20 percent of emergency department visits could be diverted to less-expensive healthcare sites, hospitals are making sure patients that come through the ED really need emergency care. For instance, Presbyterian Hospital in New Mexico has started pre-screening patients for serious problems before redirecting them to a hospital-appointed primary care provider, reported Hospitals & Health Networks Daily.

The new policy aims to save the health system (and patients) money. In the ED, a sore throat could cost $600, while treatment in a primary care physician's office would be only $120, noted Mark Stern, an emergency physician at Presbyterian Hospital.

Before referring non-emergent patients to primary care, the hospital got emergency physician buy-in by demonstrating compliance with the Emergency Medical Treatment and Active Labor Act and federal screening requirements, according to the article.

Other hospitals across the country have been embracing pre-screening policies to eliminate unnecessary ED visits and costs. Milwaukee-based Aurora Sinai Medical Center, for example, reduced its annual ED visits by 23 percent by matching non-urgent patients with other providers.

Similarly, Florida's Halifax Health pre-screens patients aged 18 to 64 before they enter the ED. The hospital then redirects those with non-emergent issues (as determined by a physician or a physician's assistant) to an on-site health clinic that charges $48, or the hospital provides community health resources.

In Boston, public health officials recently launched an initiative that steers patients away from hospital emergency rooms toward one of the city's 25 community health centers, The Boston Globe reported today.

The plan's $140,000 public information campaign, funded by hospitals, health centers and insurers, will explain to patients that community health centers offer flexible hours and a wide range of less expensive healthcare services.

To learn more:
- read the H&HN Daily article
- here's the Boston Globe article