When is the emergency room NOT your best solution?

24/7 PacMed reduces ER loads and improves patient care

Did you know you can access PacMed’s Federal Way team 24/7? It’s a message they’re sharing to help ease the strain on emergency rooms.

Did you know you can access PacMed’s Federal Way team 24/7? It’s a message they’re sharing to help ease the strain on emergency rooms.

Faced with a medical concern, when should you head to the emergency room and when is your neighborhood medical center the better choice, even after regular business hours?

That’s the question Pacific Medical Centers’ Federal Way staff posed to patients in an effort to reduce unnecessary emergency department use. The results have been significant.

The issue

Emergency department use has increased sharply in recent years, straining the emergency medical system and causing considerable waits for patients. The causes of that jump include both challenges in finding a primary care physician and shifting societal attitudes – we expect access to things right away, says Dr. Rick Ludwig, Pacific Medical Centers’ Medical Director of U.S. Family Health Plan.

“It’s really a community issue – and it’s a national issue – that has significant ramifications,” he says.

Discussions about emergency department overuse typically focus on frequent users, however about 75 per cent of patients visiting the ER do so only once or twice a year. If non-emergent visits were redirected to more appropriate medical caregivers, ER staff and resources could better handle the emergencies, explains Dr. Ludwig.

Common issues taking patients to the ER often unnecessarily include upper respiratory infections, urinary tract infections, headaches and mild dizziness. But sometimes simply talking to a medical professional can alleviate concerns.

“Our project was really focused on educating patients that the PacMed clinic is accessible to them 24/7. We have people here who can take their calls, answer their questions and see them if needed,” Dr. Ludwig says.

The message

PacMed’s message to patients is that staff are available. If an after-hours incident occurs for a patient, an initial call lets them talk to someone about their concern. That discussion can help determine if the issue can be dealt with at the clinic, if it can wait until the next day, or if it might not be a concern at all, Dr. Ludwig says, emphasizing that if patients believe their condition is urgent, they should call 9-1-1 and immediately attend the emergency department.

The pilot project has shown a reduction in nearby emergency department use of about 5 per cent from 2016 to 2017, Dr. Ludwig says.

And patient benefits reach beyond time savings. When attending their PacMed clinic, patients can work with staff who know them and who have convenient access to their records and information.

“We want to give people the best possible experience,” Dr. Ludwig says.

The solution

The first step was raising awareness among patients and reinforcing the message. Upon check-in every patient received a business card that was printed with the usual information on the front, but on the back was a reminder about the clinic’s after-hours accessibility.

At check-out, the patient was reminded verbally of the after-hours access, and a printed message was included on their record of visit. For those in the retired military community, who the clinic was particularly trying to reach, a refrigerator magnet with the same messaging was mailed out.

What clinic staff learned surprised them.

“We were surprised at how many people didn’t know that they could call us after hours and access our services,” Dr. Ludwig says. “That made us even more vigilant to let our patients know and that’s the information we’re taking to our other clinics.”

Raising awareness about PacMed’s services was also important. For example, minor lacerations can be cleaned and stitched in the clinic, and if someone needs rehydrating IV fluids after an illness, they can do that too.

“We want to have the opportunity to talk to the patients and say, we can take care of you,” Dr. Ludwig says.

More in Marketplace

Dr. Rick Ludwig, Pacific Medical Centers’ Medical Director of U.S. Family Health Plan.
When is the emergency room NOT your best solution?

24/7 PacMed reduces ER loads and improves patient care

Low inventory and high buyer demand continue to push the local real estate market, says realtor Mary Lee.
Seattle Housing Market Forecast

What’s happening in the market and where are prices and interest rates headed?

Dr. Rick Ludwig, Pacific Medical Centers’ Medical Director of U.S. Family Health Plan.
When is the emergency room NOT your best solution?

24/7 PacMed reduces ER loads and improves patient care

Dr. Rick Ludwig, Pacific Medical Centers’ Medical Director of U.S. Family Health Plan.
When is the emergency room NOT your best solution?

24/7 PacMed reduces ER loads and improves patient care

From retaining walls to patios and landscapes, Seattle Rockeries will help you create a beautiful, useable space.
Building quality from the ground up

Retaining walls and hardscaping to make the most of your property

Is your home due for a ‘paint-lift’?

8 simple steps to finding the perfect painting contractor for your project

Strength and perseverance pays off following life-changing diagnosis

Dancer shows you can manage your health and life while pursuing your passions

Medical marijuana? Expert answers some common questions

From avoiding pesticides to skipping the ‘high,’ here’s what you need to know

A true neighborhood studio, Crescendo Dance Academy offers classes for children, youth and adults, in addition to a competitive dance program and an Artist in Residence program.
Transforming a passion for dance into a profitable business

Community benefits when entrepreneur’s calling becomes a career

In addition to being a key employer, Boeing also works to protect the environment, educate students, support veterans and military families, and more.
Boeing releases Community and Economic Benefits Report

Company’s wide-ranging influence includes employment, education, environment and charitable giving

Search Advertising Remains One of the Best Ways to Reach Customers

Every search can be considered a signal of intent, giving advertisers a massive opportunity.

Boeing’s six-week Fabrication internship has hosted about 120 high school interns over the last five years.
Fabrication internship emphasizes STEM education among Puget Sound high schoolers

‘One-of-a-kind opportunity’ lets students explore manufacturing and engineering techniques