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Study Shows Lower ER Use Among Health Center Patients

Patients who used health centers as their usual source of care for three or more years had lower odds of high emergency department use, according to a new UCLA study funded by the Health Resources and Services Administration . The noteworthy findings were published last month in the Journal of Evaluation in Clinical Practice. Researchers looked at specific behaviors among patients, as well as indicators and patient care management approaches and how these factors tie into the frequency of emergency department visits.

Care-seeking behaviors were measured by whether the patient called the health center afterhours, for an urgent appointment, or talked to a provider about their concerns. Access to care indicators included health center continuity of care, transportation or translation services. Calling the health center after-hours, for urgent care, or being referred to specialists were linked to higher odds of frequent emergency department visits.

“Findings underscore opportunities to reduce higher frequency of ED visits in health [centers], which are primary care providers to many low-income populations,” concluded the report. “Our findings highlight the potential importance of improving patient retention, better access to providers afterhours or for urgent visits, and access to specialist as areas of care in need of improvement.”

This is not the first time that a study has linked lower rates of ER use among health center patients. A previous study published in the American Journal of Public Health (2016) also found lower hospital utilization and cost savings among Medicaid patients at health centers.