Hospitals and health systems actively promoting emergency departments may have to reevaluate their campaigns to comply with state efforts to curb emergency department overuse.
State officials complain that their efforts to reduce unnecessary ER visits are sometimes hampered by hospitals’ aggressive marketing of ERs to increase patient volume.
“Many hospitals are actively recruiting people to come to the ER for non-emergency reasons,” said Anthony Keck, South Carolina’s Medicaid director in a statement. “When you are advertising on billboards that your ER wait time is three minutes, you are not advertising to stroke and heart attack victims.”
In order to curb hospital marketing of the ED, Medicare officials in Washington passed rules increasing the difficulty of states to qualify for Medicaid bonus payments if they promote the ED for primary care uses.
Saint Agnes Hospital in Baltimore estimates that about 20% of its Medicaid and uninsured ER visits in 2008 were for “non-emergent” reasons, according to The Washington Post. Consequently, the hospital has been working since 2009 using a $1 million federal grant to divert patients needing more-routine care to a local community health center.
The overuse of U.S. emergency departments is responsible for $38 billion in wasteful spending each year and ED overuse is on the rise across all patient populations, irrespective of age or insurance coverage, according to the New England Healthcare Institute.