Tracking ER ‘frequent flyers’ community-wide to coordinate care, reduce readmissions

“There are folks who have a life of going from emergency department to emergency department, and that’s how their day is spent,” said Sorrell, an emergency physician and administrator at Sutter Health. “It’s sad and tragic, but that’s what happens.”

Alameda County,  just south of San Francisco, spans both wealth (Berkeley)- and poverty-stricken (Oakland) – parts of California. What it has a lot of as well are ER (ED) ‘frequent flyers’ a/k/a ‘super-users’. Some can’t manage their chronic conditions, while others are looking for a meal, a warm bed, safety or human contact. What is also true is that 1) this is an expensive and largely unnecessary form of medicine and social care, 2) there’s a lot of duplicated resources being utilized which are needed elsewhere and 3) the patients aren’t receiving the right sort of care for a better quality of life.

Since a data sharing program, PreManageED, was implemented on 31 March in four Sutter Health hospitals and two Alameda Health System hospitals, two hospitals found that they shared more than 2,000 patients, with over one-third having 6+ visits to the ER in the past year. But this is more than duplicate procedures, multiple EMS calls and badly coordinated care resulting in Medicare or Medicaid penalties. The Alameda hospitals are also integrating local community clinics and social services organizations into PreManageED so they receive alerts from the hospitals when their patients/clients arrive in the ER. It turns out that many patients are receiving social services from multiple agencies–also duplicated and uncoordinated. There is an example here of a mentally ill patient who visited ERs over 900 times in three years. Over 24 separate people had provided her with medical, emergency and social services–and none of them knew what the other was doing. The Alameda County program is a step to bring these ‘frequent flyers’ down to earth and improve their outcomes. Kaiser Health News