1. Provide Patient Education
Providing patients with information on common symptoms and complaints can prevent unnecessary ED visits, Pines says. "Patient education is a good example of where in general if we can better educate people about the most ideal setting for their complaints and when to seek care, we can very effectively reduce not only ED use but all healthcare use."
Pines warns that patient education can sometimes be a "double-edged sword because there is so much information out there on WebMD.com and other websites… It's very important how information is delivered and that patients are allowed to understand the context of their specific complaint."
2. Add Non-ED Capacity
Health systems can reduce ED visits by offering extended primary care hours and opening urgent care centers. "The addition of capacity outside of the ED can have a small reduction in the use of emergency departments, especially for low acuity visits," Pines says, noting that the added access may encourage visits that might otherwise never have occurred.
"There is the issue of 'if you build it, they will come,'" he says. "As a cost-saving measure, it can potentially backfire" because of supply-induced demand.
3. Explore Managed Care Models / Population Health Strategies
Pine says new care models, such as accountable care organizations and patient-centered medical homes, will likely result in a decrease in ED visits. "We are going to be seeing more of these managed care interventions where organizations are paid differently with a goal of reducing utilization. I think those programs can be effective, but they need to be monitored carefully to make sure they are safe for patients," he says.