Partnership with community clinics in Wisconsin leads to 44% reduction in ER use

By Aine Cryts

A Wisconsin program where hospital emergency rooms have referred patients to community clinics for their primary care follow up and management of chronic diseases such as diabetes, has led to a 44 percent reduction in expensive emergency department visits, reports Wisconsin Public Radio.

The program was put in place to address a problem that occurred with Wisconsin's partial expansion of Medicaid in 2013, which led to a 10 percent increase in patients seeking care at Milwaukee County emergency rooms, accordng to the report.

Twenty-three percent of the patients were showing up in the emergency room for the treatment of minor health problems. To redirect patients to lower cost, more appropriate care, emergency room physicians began referring patients to community clinics through the Milwaukee Health Care Partnership, which was organized by area hospitals.

"If a patient needs care, we're able to get on that database, make an appointment for them, give them a time and a place and give them bus route lines and recommendations for transportation," Chris Decker, M.D., who directs emergency medicine at Froedtert Hospital in Wauwatosa, told Wisconsin Public Radio. "And then a few days before their clinic appointment, they actually get a phone call from that clinic."

Just under 50 percent of patients show up for their scheduled appointments at community clinics--a statistic partnership officials laud as a success. That's because many of these patients have transportation issues and struggle financially; 34 percent are on Medicaid and 44 percent are living at or below the federal poverty line.

In 2015, approximately 6,000 people who presented in Milwaukee County emergency rooms with minor or chronic health issues received a referral to a clinic for their follow-up care, according to the news outlet. Once patients are connected with a primary care provider, their emergency room visits drop by 44 percent, Decker told Wisconsin Public Radio.

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