In Washington, big data keeps patients out of the ED

Initiative reduced 10% of unnecessary ED visits

Washington State reduced Medicaid ED visits by 10% after it required hospitals to use a data-sharing system that tracked beneficiaries' use of emergency hospital care, according to a report from the Washington State Health Care Authority

The trouble with cutting costs in the ED

In 2012, Washington implemented a mandatory program requiring hospitals in the state to use the Emergency Department Information Exchange to track beneficiaries' use of hospital EDs. Under the program, patients' names are sent to the database when they register at an ED. The exchange then provides physicians with a list of recent ED visits by the patient.

So far, 424 primary care physicians have registered to receive automatic notifications through the system if one of their patients goes to the ED. The report found that after one year of the initiative:

  • The rate of ED visits among Medicaid beneficiaries declined by 10%; and
  • Narcotics prescriptions for Medicaid beneficiaries dropped by 24%.

In addition, Medicaid ED costs declined by $33.7 million in fiscal year 2013.

Carol Wagner, senior vice president for patient safety at the Washington State Hospital Association, says the database "created a whole new set of data so hospitals and communities could look at what patients are coming back to our emergency rooms."

WSJ: How big data is helping hospitals get better

Other states, including Oregon, are developing similar ED information exchanges (Weise, Bloomberg Businessweek, 3/25; Hall, FierceHealthIT, 3/28).

Strategies for reducing ED visits

Hospitals nationwide are looking for ways to keep patients out of their emergency departments—and to better manage them when they do visit EDs. Check out the archives for best practices, including:

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