Report Addresses Costly Non-Urgent Care

The national network of Federally-funded Community Health Centers is essential to preventing the misuse of hospital emergency departments, according to a new report from the United States Government Accountability Office (GAO). The report estimates that 8 percent of the 117 million emergency room visits that took place in 2007 were classified as non-urgent-with the cost of emergency room visits estimated at seven times the cost of visits to Community Health Centers. Hospitals and Health Centers should work together to educate patients on the appropriate use of outpatient services, says GAO. And Health Centers should use care coordination strategies such as the medical home model and chronic care management to prevent patients from having to rely on emergency departments for primary care. Finally, GAO argues that the Centers need to do a better job of raising awareness among local communities about the availability of low-cost alternatives to emergency departments. Centers should expand their hours of service and use telemedicine, home visits, mobile clinics and translation services to reach poor and uninsured patients in inner-cities, according to the report. Hospital Emergency Departments: Health Center Strategies That May Help Reduce Their Use (GAO-11-414R Health Center Strategies), is available at www.gao.gov.