Innovative ways to slash ED overuse

On a mild, gray day in February, fatigue lined the face of Anthony Parish, a slight, 39-year-old man who has been through a lot. He had a cancerous portion of his lung removed and struggled with postoperative pain. Chemotherapy treatments caused abscesses in his mouth that ruined his teeth and repeatedly sent him to the emergency department for relief, delivered in the form of painkillers and antibiotics.

Despite his health problems, Parish voiced hope on that midwinter morning. His medical team had developed a plan to help alleviate his dental pain. By the end of the month, his infected teeth would be removed and replaced with dentures. He still has intermittent chest pain, but he is learning to cope with it.

Parish is one of about 950 patients identified by Spectrum Health System in Grand Rapids, Mich., as having used their hospital EDs 10 times or more during the previous year. These patients accounted for more than 20,000 total visits and at least $40 million in costs during that period. In November 2011, Spectrum launched the Center for Integrative Medicine, a $1 million multispecialty clinic modeled on a pilot program that slashed ED use by nearly 90%, to help patients like Parish address the source of the problems that keep bringing them back to the ED.

My latest feature article. Read the whole shebang. And check out the slide show.