Mobile integrated healthcare can cut ED visits, boost clinical care

Emergency room sign

Photo credit: Getty/Nils Versemann

Mobile integrated healthcare (MIH) aided by telehealth technology can significantly reduce emergency medical services use and costs, and provide engaging clinical care to high-risk and chronically ill patients, a new study published in the Journal of Health Economics and Outcomes Research concludes.

The study, which tapped data related to 60,000 managed Medicare patients and involved an intervention program aimed at a geriatric population, revealed a 40 percent drop in inpatient emergency department (ED) utilization and a 21 percent decrease in ED utilization outside the inpatient community, according to an announcement.

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“This initial impact analysis of a MIH care coordination program for this [Medicare Advantage PPO] population demonstrates promising trends regarding utilization, cost, member experience and patient activation,” say the study's authors, who note that 8 percent of the U.S. population accesses healthcare via emergency medical services each year. “These preliminary findings indicate both that implementation of such a program is feasible and strongly suggest meritorious impacts upon the health, experience and cost of care for the population.”

Reducing emergency services use and decreasing hospital readmission is big focus for providers, given related rising healthcare costs.

A survey for the National Association of Emergency Medical Technicians found that eight out of 10 mobile integrated healthcare-community paramedicine programs have reduced costs related to frequent 911 callers. Examples include reducing ED admissions by triaging patients who frequently call ambulances by checking vital signs and determining whether the patient needs to go to the hospital.

As FierceMobileHealthcare reported, the Houston Fire Department launched its Emergency Telehealth and Navigation program in late 2015 to enhance emergency medical response while reducing unnecessary transports to hospital emergency departments. What's more, a study this past August revealed seniors who consistently see the same physician in an outpatient setting are more likely to avoid an emergency room visit.

The JHEOR study notes that the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services predicts Medicare enrollment will increase to 18.5 million individuals next year, reflecting a 60 percent spike from 2010; with that in mind, the authors said, about $600 million could be saved each year if Medicare patients were treated in an office or urgent care setting, compared to an ED visit.