Cut down on unnecessary 911 calls to avoid excessive costs

Jun 30, 2015 | Hospital Budgets

One of the major problems that plagues hospital budgets everywhere is the overuse of ambulances in response to unnecessary 911 calls. According to Tom Doub, writing for the Healthcare Financial Management Association (HMFA), these non-emergency ambulance rides cost hospitals millions of dollars per year by "spending $3,000 to solve what often is a $3 problem."

Doub gives the example of an elderly Phoenix woman who called 911 to take her to the hospital because she had lost her glasses and couldn't read her medication instructions. Emergency room nurses read her the instructions, but sent her home without any replacement glasses. Non-emergency calls like this result in a serious financial drain on hospitals and taxpayers because neither Medicaid nor private insurance will cover them and most people who call 911 for these reasons never pay off the associated costs themselves.

Not only do unnecessary 911 calls result in wasteful spending, they also clog up the system, lengthening response times for actual emergencies. 

"Life or death cases are sometimes impacted by longer response times," a paramedic told Illinois Homepage. "The biggest response is in cardiac arrest. Every minute is ten-percent, essentially, of their life being decreased." 

Therefore, it's imperative to find solutions that stop unnecessary calls from ever reaching emergency responders. Most of these come in the form of patient information and health triage phone lines, where patients who make unwarranted 911 calls are connected with resources to help them find the healthcare they would otherwise seek at the ER. According to the employees who answer these calls, most people who call 911 unnecessarily don't have insurance and simply don't know how else to find help for their medical problems.

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