Hospitals seek to cut emergency-room overuse
Beginning in December, some patients using SwedishAmerican Hospital’s emergency department will leave with their treatment and a health-care connection that could keep them from coming back.
Dr. Kathleen Kelly, SwedishAmerican’s chief medical officer, said the hospital has hired a nurse case manager who will follow up, usually before they leave after being treated, with patients who use the emergency room repeatedly or who use it for nonemergencies. The object, she said, is to try to connect them with a primary-care physician or other appropriate provider who could take charge of their medical care.
“Sometimes, the hospital is the last resort for some of our patients,” Kelly said. “They don’t know where else to go. They’re a vulnerable population of patients who come to the hospital for support, but what they come for isn’t always an emergency.”
Rockford’s other hospitals also make efforts to connect emergency-room patients with regular health care.
“Patients who come into our emergency room are encouraged to follow up with their primary-care physician,” Rockford Health System spokesman Mike Wiltse said. “If they don’t have a primary-care physician, then we will try to connect them to a Rockford Health System physician.”
Terese Michels, communications manager at OSF Saint Anthony Medical Center, said emergency-room patients are referred to a primary-care physician for follow up, but the hospital doesn’t monitor whether the patient connected with the primary-care physician.
Kelly said SwedishAmerican’s idea is modeled after successful programs in other communities that have improved health care for the patients and reduce demand for emergency-room services. Overuse of emergency rooms as primary health-care providers has been identified as a major reason for the high costs of health care.
“In many cases, the patient just doesn’t have the knowledge to navigate the health-care system,” Kelly said. “Preventing problems is really at the center of the crisis that prompts the emergency-room visit.”
Kelly said part of the nurse case manager’s job will be to identify health-care providers who will accommodate patients the program refers to them.
She said the program also could reduce the number of unnecessary ambulance rides provided by the city.
Rockford Finance Director Andres Sammul said the city’s ambulances make about 15,000 runs per year and the city writes off about $2 million in uncollected ambulance fees annually.
Mike DeDoncker can be reached at (815) 987-1382 email@example.com.