Two healthcare research organizations have joined forces to support an initiative that will test strategies to reduce nonurgent use of hospital emergency departments. The not-for-profit New England Healthcare Institute in Cambridge, Mass.which conducts evidence-based research to influence policy changeand the Institute for Healthcare Improvement, also in Cambridge, will work with hospitals and other healthcare sites to experiment with ways to decrease the use of emergency rooms for nonurgent purposes. The initiatives research phase has been completed, and the organizations will meet with the healthcare sites in August. Strategy testing will begin in September, according to a spokeswoman for the New England Healthcare Institute.
There is a widely held notion that the uninsured are single-handedly driving up the cost of healthcare by overusing emergency departments, said Wendy Everett, president of the New England Healthcare Institute, in a news release. But in fact, nonurgent ED use is increasing in tandem among all payer groups, including those covered by both privately and publicly sponsored insurance.
The groups report that an open-door policy for emergency rooms, combined with a primary-care system that is weakened by provider shortages, low reimbursement rates and disjointed care, has caused emergency-room visits to increase 74% to 16 million per year in 2005 from 9.2 million in 1997. -- by Jessica Zigmond