Awareness campaign aims to reduce emergency room visits

Friday, August 9, 2013

Make the Right Call Reds photo

Have you ever gone to a hospital emergency room and, as you sat there waiting, realized your problem could have been handled more efficiently at an urgent care clinic or even in your doctor’s office?

When we’re suddenly sick or injured, it’s natural to think first of the emergency department. As fire department paramedics like to say: “We have trained everyone very well to call 911.” And, often, if you call the doctor’s office after hours, you are advised to go to an emergency room. What’s more, hospitals themselves promote the speed and easy access of their emergency departments.

In fact, however, inappropriate use of hospital emergency rooms has become a prime target in the struggle to reduce health care costs and build a more effective, less wasteful health care system.

According to the Greater Cincinnati Health Council, the top five diagnoses seen by Greater Cincinnati emergency departments are often not even emergencies: abdominal pain, urinary tract infection, headache, chest pain, and upper respiratory infection.

Aiming to reducing inappropriate emergency rooms visits, the Health Collaborative is launching a community awareness campaign called Make the Right Call. The campaign will use the Your Health Matters web site, social media, informational materials, news media and the help of community partners to:

  • Raise awareness of the benefits of using primary care physicians for non-emergency ailments
  • Inform on the reasons for misuse of emergency departments
  • Create a social media dialogue
  • Provide a resource people can use to help them “make the right call” (the resource is

Council on Aging is a partner in the campaign, along with the Universal Health Care Action Network of Ohio (UHCAN); the United Food & Commercial Workers Union Local 75 (UFCW Local 75); and the Health Collaborative Consumer Council.

Council on Aging is involved because older adults are one segment of the population that tends to use the emergency room in non-emergency situations.

In a recent situation, for example, one of our health coaches happened to be visiting a client on a day when the client was feeling short of breath. A home health nurse– also there at the time – suggested she return to the hospital. The coach, who is trained to help people avoid preventable hospital visits, talked to the client and reviewed with her the medications and devices she had already on hand to help her with shortness of breath, including oxygen. The client agreed and eventually felt better by the next day without having to leave her home.

“A lot of times people do not realize the power that is in their hands to do what they need for their own health care,” the coach said. “Eighty-five percent of our clients do not want to return to the hospital (after they have been discharged). If they call their doctor and are told to go to the emergency room, they may want to insist that the doctor see them instead.”

As the campaign moves forward, Council on Aging expects that our care managers will be able to share the Make the Right Call message with in-home care clients by showing short videos and distributing informational materials.

Judy Hirsh, Director of Consumer Engagement and Programs for the Health Collaborative, said they chose medical emergencies as a consumer campaign focus because “reducing inappropriate emergency department usage will achieve better care for patients and lower costs for all.”

“Misuse of emergency department resources drives up overall health costs across Greater Cincinnati,” Hirsh said. “It also prevents emergency departments from tending to true medical emergencies as quickly as they can. Finally, it costs you and your family more in time, money and exposure to other illnesses to visit the emergency departments for things that are actually non-emergencies.”

Council on Aging is pleased to be a partner in this effort because it aligns with our mission to help older adults remain independent in their homes, said CEO Suzanne Burke.

“Ironic as it may sound, trips to the hospital are hard on people who may be in frail health,” she said. “It is best to avoid whenever possible. We empower seniors and their family caregivers to take advantage of other options whenever they can. Those may include more effective use of their primary care doctor, in-home care, and training to better manage chronic conditions. It’s important for seniors to know: Your health may not be the best, but if you use resources well, you greatly increase your ability to remain in your home.”

We invite you to get involved by checking out this video, YourHealthMatters: Street Interviews to hear what others in Greater Cincinnati have said. Like the campaign on Facebook and follow the conversation on Twitter.