Healthcare News & Insights

Avoid ED visits for seniors with better continuity of care

Keeping seniors from unnecessary hospital visits is essential, especially as Medicare penalties for readmissions and poor patient outcomes continue to increase. New research shows another strategy that hospitals can use to help seniors avoid visiting the emergency department and improve the quality of care they receive. 

Doctor Talking With Senior Male PatientThe research, published in the Annals of Emergency Medicine, looks at the relationship between a senior patient’s risks of going to the ED and the care that person receives in other outpatient settings.

Based on the results of the analysis, improving patients’ continuity of care goes a long way toward reducing their use of the ED.

Impact of consistent care

According to a press release about the study, researchers looked at data for over 3 million Medicare patients over a two-year period. They found that senior patients who visited the same doctor, or a small group of doctors, regularly were 20% less likely to visit the ED or be admitted to the hospital through the ED.

And if these patients were admitted to the ED for any reason, they had much better outcomes from their hospital stay than patients who didn’t see the same doctor regularly.

The key to improving health outcomes was consistent, continuous care in the outpatient setting. The more often a patient saw a regular physician, or a small group of the same doctors and specialists, the better their outcomes were overall.

Researchers theorized that this was the case because a patient with a regular physician could get clear, informed advice about whether a change in his or her health condition warranted a trip to the ED.

Plus, with a regular physician, patients could receive better ongoing care for existing chronic conditions or other health problems, which kept their health from deteriorating to the point where an ED visit was necessary.

What hospitals should do

Helping seniors get better, more consistent health care across the care spectrum has become a bigger priority for hospitals due to the rise of value-based payments from Medicare and other payors. Cutting back on ED visits is also an essential part of providing high-quality care to patients.

With that in mind, clinical staff should be asking all hospital patients whether they have a permanent primary care physician upon admission – and refer them to a doctor for all required follow-up care if they don’t already have one.

Besides helping patients find a regular doctor for primary care, it’s also important to find out if there are other factors that prevent them from seeing a physician regularly, including those that aren’t directly related to their health (e.g., lack of reliable transportation). Hospitals can form community partnerships with various organizations so they’ll be able to point patients to the appropriate resources to keep these issues from negatively affecting continuity of care.

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