Monday, June 27, 2011

WellPoint uses the Internet to try and decrease ER visits

Author: Riley Alexander, MD, MBA

For any of who have spent time in the ER as a medical student, resident or are practicing in the ER, you know that it seems like many patients don't quite comprehend what that "emergency" word means in the title. This growing trend in overutilization of ERs for non-emergent cases is not only placing a growing burden on the ER as far as patient volume, but is a significant contributor to rising public healthcare costs. Being the ER runs on a "rule out badness" mentality, many patients receive a very thorough workup that includes labs and imaging and drives up costs when most of these patients would have been fine to see a primary care physician.

WellPoint, the nation's largest private insurer and corporate parent of Anthem and many of the "Blues," is starting an initiative to inform patients of "ER alternatives" (urgent care centers and retail clinics) in their area when their health state may not be considered "emergent." The site does a good job of informing patients as to the cost difference between the two, including co-pays, and provides a Google map to locate nearby ER alternatives. The site for Virginia can be found here.

I think this is a good idea on the part of WellPoint and I'm sure ER physicians would love to see this work. WellPoint plans on sending out mail brochures and using online ads to market the resource. Hopefully it will prove to be successful. I'm just a little skeptical that the patients who think that getting a refill on their Vicodin at 2am is an emergency will care enough to use this.

About the author:

Dr. Riley Alexander is a pathology resident at Indiana University School of Medicine, blog "addict" and avid follower of technology. His primary interests revolve around how technology, especially mobile, will create increased efficiency, enhanced physician education and better delivery of care in the medical field. Dr. Alexander is a graduate of Indiana University School of Medicine with a combined MD/MBA, in partnership with IU's Kelley School of Business. Due to this, he is also very interested in management, healthcare policy and non-clinical aspects of the medical field and enjoys exploring non-clinical opportunities for medical students, residents and physicians. He completed his undergraduate education at IU-Bloomington.

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