When seeking outpatient care, national research suggests that patients value convenience over other factors. This decision-making may help to explain why patients visit Emergency Departments even when their illnesses or injuries may be more appropriately and affordably treated elsewhere. Combine patients’ desire for convenience with another factor — uncertainty about which medical conditions need immediate treatment — and it’s easy to understand why further research shows that 43 percent of emergency room visits are avoidable.
Recognizing an opportunity to improve patient experience and control health care spending, the MaineHealth Accountable Care Organization launched a project to decrease avoidable emergency room visits called REDUCE: Reducing Emergency Department Utilization — A Collaborative Endeavor.
A key component of REDUCE is “Where to Go for Care,” a patient-education resource that compares the convenience, cost and treatment options offered by primary care practices, walk-in clinics, urgent care centers and the traditional emergency room. The project incorporated feedback from more than 120 patients, clinicians, health educators, communications experts and other stakeholders from across the MaineHealth system.
“Many of us on the Patient Advisory Committee have personally wrestled with the question, ‘can my condition (or my child’s) wait for a doctor visit, would urgent care be more appropriate, or do I belong in the emergency room right now?’” said Arthur Fink, a member of the Maine Medical Partners Patient and Family Advisory Council that provided feedback on Where to Go for Care. “We were able to share our experiences, and not just our opinions, with those who were working on this tool.”
The Where to Go for Care infographic can be seen by patients on digital monitors in waiting rooms, as part of their After Visit Summaries, on the MaineHealth website, and through social media. ACO care managers also distributed it to their patients, who are already actively using it as a resource.
“Emergency Departments are a vital part of the health care system, doing miraculous work and saving lives every day, 24 hours a day. Because they are designed, staffed and equipped to respond to life-threatening emergencies, they are very expensive and sometimes less convenient than other places to receive non-emergent care. We want patients to get the right care, at the right time, at the right place. The Where to Go for Care campaign is an important patient-centered resource to help achieve that goal,” said Betsy Johnson, MD, MS, FACP, President of the MaineHealth Accountable Care Organization.