Healthcare News & Insights

Investing in housing, other social elements of health can decrease ED visits

Emergency department (ED) visits are often expensive and time-consuming for patients and hospitals alike, especially when those visits aren’t necessary. Often, those unnecessary visits come from patients who can’t afford regular medical care, including low-income or homeless people who may have unstable housing and other quality-of-life issues. 

One possible solution?

Investing in housing and other community resources to reduce the effects of income inequality, which would cut down on unnecessary hospitalizations and excess ED visits.

Patients who face food or housing uncertainty may rely on being admitted to hospitals for a night or two of shelter and meals, which can be a drain on hospitals and diverts staff energy away from higher-risk patients.

When those patients have nowhere to go after being discharged except a homeless shelter, most of which often face overcrowding, the problem becomes more severe.

Some hospitals and health systems are realizing that spending money on food and housing for members of the surrounding community is cheaper than multiple ED visits or hospitalizations, according to a recent article from Ken Burdick in the U.S. News & World Report.

Social determinants

These quality-of-life issues fall under the umbrella of social determinants. Social determinants can take a toll on patients and hospitals alike – and are some of the most important aspects of overall health.  One study from the Henry J. Kaiser Foundation estimated social determinants account for about 60% of our health.

Burdick’s company, WellCare Health Plans, created a resource that connects patients with various community resources in the area, addressing needs like requests for food, medical transportation, medication assistance and help with utilities.

And the company’s seen significant savings: Since it first began offering the resource to patients, there’s been a 26% decrease in emergency spending, a 53% reduction in inpatient spending and a 23% reduction in outpatient spending.

Housing investments

But beyond simply connecting patients to existing community resources, there’s a space for hospitals to become even more involved in the process.

Investing in new transitional housing for patients without a steady income gets them out of your facility, freeing up beds for more critical patients without abandoning those who are most vulnerable.

Plus, the eventual cost savings from reducing unnecessary ED visits and hospitalizations make the investment a wise one. Focusing on this aspect can increase buy in for the initiative.

And the contribution to the community can’t be overstated. As more people in the area get the ability to better care for themselves, your patient mix becomes healthier and happier.

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