One path to better care at less cost

Gazette Editorial Board


Even with all the contention about health care issues in this country, reducing the cost of care is one thing we can all agree on.

That’s why we’re intrigued by the potential a St. Luke’s Hospital initiative to reduce the number of frequent fliers to the ER without compromising medical care.

Programs such as St. Luke’s Emergency Department Consistent Care Program could help health care providers make good on their efforts to improve patient outcomes while cutting costs — an important piece of this country’s health care reform puzzle.

Since the launch of St. Luke’s program, the number of combined ER visits by initial participants — about 110 “frequent fliers” who each had visited the ER more than 12 times in a 12-month period — plummeted from more than 1,600 in 2011 to 537 in 2012.

That’s because the hospital helped connect those patients with primary care providers — doctors, home care and mental health services — and develop a care plan to better take care of chronic conditions and non-acute medical needs. Caseworkers helped patients resolve other issues contributing to frequent, costly emergency room use, such as lack of transportation or health insurance.

Hospital officials continue to identify frequent ER users who might benefit from more consistent medical services. They say more than 225 patients are part of the program.

The estimated $100,000 per year in operations costs are easily justified by the significant reductions in expensive, repeat emergency room visits.

St. Luke’s is part of Iowa Health Systems, which hopes to expand the program to all eight of the system’s hospitals. Other local providers say they are considering offering similar services. Certainly it’s worth a try.

Emergency rooms have too often become providers of last resort for patients without insurance or who do not take regular care of their health.

Instead, hospitals can encourage such patients to take charge of their health by developing preventive and health maintenance habits under the direction of a primary physician.

A better use of resources. More consistent medical treatment for lower cost — how could anyone argue with that?

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