Emergency Room Interventions Using Google Maps and Education Empower Consumers to Choose ER Alternatives for Non-Emergency Condi

INDIANAPOLIS, June 23, 2011 /PRNewswire/ -- WellPoint's affiliated health plans have launched an emergency room program and education campaign incorporating Google Maps to make it easier to find and use retail health clinics and urgent care centers for non-emergency conditions when regular physicians are not available.

"When your five-year-old is crying with a fever at 7 p.m. on a Friday because she has a sore throat or an ear ache, what do you do?" said Dr. Manish Oza, a WellPoint medical director who helped shape the program and also practices as an ER physician. "It's important people know that they have options to treat less serious ailments other than an ER, such as retail health clinics and urgent care centers that provide quality care and cost them significantly less."

The ER program's online tools were developed to be easy to use to help consumers find where the closest participating ER alternatives are located in their states. The webpage also provides information on when it's appropriate to use these alternatives and reinforces when it's appropriate to go to the emergency room.

About 17 percent of all visits to hospital emergency departments nationally could potentially be treated at retail medical clinics or urgent care centers for an estimated savings of $4.4 billion, according to a RAND Corp. study published in the September 2010 edition of Health Affairs.  ER visits also are getting longer, with the national average clocking in at four hours and five minutes, according to the Emergency Department Pulse Report, Press Ganey Associates, 2008.

Research conducted by HealthCore Inc., WellPoint's outcomes research subsidiary, showed that a pilot program with a commercially-insured population in Virginia, which included member education via e-mails and online advertising, in addition to financial incentives and a Google map finder for retail health clinics and urgent care centers, assisted in members' decisions to use ER alternatives for non-emergency care.

The study showed that ER use for conditions that could be treated at retail health or urgent care clinics decreased in 2010 from 2009 for all populations studied.  Specifically, HealthCore reported a 14 percent decrease in ER visits for those who participated in the program compared with those who did not. The decrease in visits covered minor sicknesses or conditions that could be treated elsewhere.

In addition to the education campaign, members in the study had financial incentives to help them save out-of-pocket expenses. For example, emergency room charges may average $580 to treat strep throat, depending on location, compared with $90 at urgent care centers and $40 at retail health clinics; ER copays range from $100 to $200, compared with $10 to $40 for retail health clinics and urgent care centers.

"This program demonstrates that by empowering members with knowledge of the best uses of urgent care services, they can access convenient, quality care while helping to control health care costs," said WellPoint Chief Medical Officer Dr. Sam Nussbaum.

After the program concluded, the group exposed to the program was more than twice as likely to seek treatment for non-emergency conditions at retail health clinics than those who did not participate.

"We see in our data that the highest rates of avoidable ER use are among people 34 and younger—those who are less likely to have a primary care physician but more likely to be technology consumers," Oza said. "We chose to develop Google Maps in the states where our affiliated health plans are located and create online advertising because that's where people go for information when they're deciding whether to go to the ER or not."

The ER program includes:

  • Ads on Google, Yahoo! and Bing that drive visitors to an educational site explaining when it's appropriate to use ER alternatives, such as retail health clinics and urgent care centers.
  • A Google map, available to everyone, that provides the location of ER alternatives in the state so that consumers can easily find them.  
  • Automated calls to educate members whose recent ER visits were potentially avoidable, and e-mails to members interested in learning more information. Educational pieces mailed explaining the type of conditions that could be treated at ER alternatives and potential differences in cost.  

About WellPoint

WellPoint works to simplify the connection between Health, Care and Value. We help to improve the health of our members and our communities, and provide greater value to our customers and shareholders. WellPoint is the nation's largest health benefits company in terms of medical membership, with 34 million members in its affiliated health plans, and a total of more than 70 million individuals served through its subsidiaries.  As an independent licensee of the Blue Cross and Blue Shield Association, WellPoint serves members as the Blue Cross licensee for California; the Blue Cross and Blue Shield licensee for Colorado, Connecticut, Georgia, Indiana, Kentucky, Maine, Missouri (excluding 30 counties in the Kansas City area), Nevada, New Hampshire, New York (as the Blue Cross Blue Shield licensee in 10 New York City metropolitan and surrounding counties and as the Blue Cross or Blue Cross Blue Shield licensee in selected upstate counties only), Ohio, Virginia (excluding the Northern Virginia suburbs of Washington, D.C.), and Wisconsin.  In a majority of these service areas, WellPoint's plans do business as Anthem Blue Cross, Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield, Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Georgia, Empire Blue Cross Blue Shield, or Empire Blue Cross (in the New York service areas).  WellPoint also serves customers throughout the country as UniCare.  Additional information about WellPoint is available at www.wellpoint.com.

SOURCE WellPoint, Inc.