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How health plans can reduce ED visits and readmissions post-pandemic

Visits to emergency departments (ED) dropped by 42% in the early months of COVID-19, according to the CDC. In pre-pandemic times, this might have been a positive sign. Two-thirds of ED visits are thought to be avoidable, with emergency care used as a safety net in the absence of access to more appropriate services. Excessive emergency care also comes with a high price, often resulting in a poor patient experience. UnitedHealth Group estimates that the 18 million preventable visits per year cost the health system up to $32 billion annually.

Unfortunately, the rapid decrease in ED use during the pandemic isn’t a signal that care management and access challenges have been resolved. Social distancing, stay-at-home orders and fear of being exposed to COVID-19 have prompted patients to avoid seeking care in person altogether. Inevitably, as more individuals either postpone or forego the care they need, ED use will start to creep back up again.

For health plans, the worry is a sudden influx of their members returning to emergency departments with more complex care needs arising from delayed treatment. Medical costs could sky-rocket, while gaps in care could reach critical levels as health plans and providers struggle to keep track of ED admissions and readmissions.

As health plans look to curb ED utilization in the aftermath of COVID-19, digital tools can provide a valuable lifeline.

4 ways health plans can use digital tools to reduce unnecessary ED visits

1. Take action to engage members before acute episodes occur

Proactively involving members in their own care management can help head off unnecessary ED visits before they’re even a possibility. Understanding how the social determinants of health affect a member and how they access care can help health plans tailor their engagement strategies and close gaps in care.

Experian Health’s Member Engagement Solutions draw together all the insights needed to connect the dots between emergency visits, social and economic risk factors, and digital care coordination, so health plans can communicate with members in the most effective way.

2. Make it easier for members to access care when they need it

Part of the ED visit volume is based on members’ frustration of not being able to access care when they want or need it.

Health plans can prevent unnecessary ED visits by sending automated outreach prompts to encourage members to schedule appointments, via interactive voice response or text. A digital scheduling platform can give the member an easy way to book their appointment, without needing to call during office hours. With digital scheduling, health plan member engagement teams and call centers can facilitate member appointment scheduling with the right providers without the cumbersome three-way call.

3. Implement a real-time tracking strategy for ED admissions

One of the biggest challenges for health plans is not knowing when members are admitted to the emergency department.

A tool such as MemberMatch® can alert health plans of their members’ real-time ED encounters, so they can rally around active episodes of care – potentially avoiding unnecessary, out-of-network admissions and readmissions – and optimize the cost and quality of encounters across the continuum of care post-discharge. Using Experian Health’s leading referential matching system, a member’s care team can be notified via text, portal or email for quick insights that enable better care coordination.

4. Ensure better management of post-discharge follow-up care

Every health plan’s checklist for reducing readmissions should include a follow-up strategy when patients have visited the ED. Given that post-ED follow-up for members with chronic conditions is likely to be a STAR measure in the future, plans should prepare their proactive intervention strategy now.

USMD WellMed Health System used Experian Health’s Member Utilization Management Solutions for better care coordination for patients within 30 or 90 days of leaving hospital, significantly reducing their readmissions rate. Within just four months, the ROI trends gave them confidence to roll out Care Coordination Manager from USMD clinics to WellMed clinics too.

Reducing admissions and readmissions is not about making access to the ED more difficult, but making access to other services, care options, and care management solutions easier. With the right digital solutions, health plans can take action to make this unprecedented transition of care from the ED to other, more cost-effective arenas the ‘new normal’ and put the old model of ED over-utilization in the past.

Contact us to learn more about how Experian Health can help health plan reduce unnecessary ED visits.