Dr. Peter Smulowitz of Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston said the study he helped lead divided emergency department visits into three categories -- emergencies, intermediate/complex conditions and minor injuries/illnesses -- and assessed the potential cost savings for each.
"The focus on non-urgent emergency room visits distracts from the potential savings that do exist in the area of hospital admissions," Smulowitz said in a statement. "Emergency department patients are responsible for about half of all hospital admissions, and those admissions account for about 15 percent of all healthcare expenses."
The study, published in the Annals of Emergency Medicine, minor injuries and illnesses, the potential cost savings were between 0.25 percent and 0.8 percent of healthcare costs, part of which would be offset by the additional cost of establishing new urgent care centers or adding after-hours or weekend primary care availability.
For emergencies, there were no available cost savings as they require care using the expensive resources available in the emergency department.
However, for intermediate/complex conditions, the potential savings amounted to a maximum of 2.5 percent of all healthcare spending, which Smulowitz attributed mostly to reduced hospital admissions.
"The current system doesn't support the standby costs mandated by federal law for 24-hour-a-day readiness to handle car crashes, heart attacks and pandemics," Smulowitz said. "True payment reform would be most effective if allowed for reimbursement adequate to fund the emergency medical care system so it is ready for anything at any time, which is surely for the public good."