Big data reducing unnecessary ER visits in California

Repeat ER visitors account for a significant portion of overall visits.

Through no real fault of their own, a lot of hospitals are doing the same job on the same exact person, unnecessarily repeating tests and possibly suggesting different, contradicting treatments. Not only is this hurting hospitals financially, it's also jeopardizing patients' health and well-being. The problem has been growing nationwide, but health systems in Alameda County, California are now working toward the solution.

The problem with repeat ER visits
According to research from the Department of Emergency Medicine at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York, frequent emergency room visitors account for 4.5 to 8 percent of all ED patients, but are 21 to 28 percent of visits. The research found that these frequent ED patients are also at a higher risk for hospitalization. The study indicated that emergency departments experienced a sharp growth in patient volume from 1996 to 2006, and these specific patients have contributed significantly to that increase.

"There are folks who have a life going from emergency department to emergency department, and that's how their day is spent," Arthur Sorrell, an emergency physician and administrator at Sutter Health, told California Healthline. "It's sad and tragic, but that's what happens."

"Emergency departments can waste their time and even offer contradictory advice."

As Sorrell explained, the reasons for recurring ER visits range from chronic illnesses to the need for a safe place to sleep and eat. Regardless of why, these frequent visitations often cause triage staff to repeat tests and treatments already administered in a different emergency room. Without knowing exactly what happened at another facility, emergency departments can waste their time and even offer contradictory advice.

Awareness of prior ER visits isn't even really the issue, according to Sorrell. Sometimes patients come into one ER still wearing the bracelet from another. Even if the staff knows about a recent visit, obtaining the details in an effective and useful way is the biggest challenge.

Hospitals can fax information about a patient's previous ER visits, but these documents are long and difficult to sift through, sometimes 50 pages or more of patient history. It's unrealistic for emergency department staff to quickly find the necessary information, especially when there's a busy emergency room to attend to.

Patients waiting in an emergency room.
With this new database, participating hospitals can quickly learn more about ER patients.

How big data will work to solve it
For this reason, big data has become such an important part of solving this problem, allowing hospital emergency departments in Alameda County to digitally exchange patient health records and other such information – all in real time.

Currently, four Sutter Health hospitals and two Alameda Health System hospitals are involved in the partnership, which began March 31. Hospitals in these systems found that they share thousands of the same visits, a lot of whom make frequent ER visits.

With this new system, PreManage ED, all participating hospitals can quickly check if an ER patient has recently been to another hospital and find out what treatments he or she had and if the individual in question already has an assigned case manager.

This database ensures that there are no repeat tests, saving emergency departments resources, time and money while working to improve the level of care administered to patients. While health care providers have tried in the past to solve this issue, big data could be just the answer they were looking for.

For more information and resources about how to protect your hospital's bottom line, contact Professional Medical Services today.