Reducing Variation In Hospital Admissions From The Emergency Department For Low-Mortality Conditions May Produce Savings

Source: Amber K. Sabbatini, Brahmajee K. Nallamothu and Keith E. Kocher, Health Affairs, Vol. 33 no. 9, September 2014
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From the abstract:
The emergency department (ED) is now the primary source for hospitalizations in the United States, and admission rates for all causes differ widely between EDs. In this study we used a national sample of ED visits to examine variation in risk-standardized hospital admission rates from EDs and the relationship of this variation to inpatient mortality for the fifteen most commonly admitted medical and surgical conditions. We then estimated the impact of variation on national health expenditures under different utilization scenarios. Risk-standardized admission rates differed substantially across EDs, ranging from 1.03-fold for sepsis to 6.55-fold for chest pain between the twenty-fifth and seventy-fifth percentiles of the visits. Conditions such as chest pain, soft tissue infection, asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, and urinary tract infection were low-mortality conditions that showed the greatest variation. This suggests that some of these admissions might not be necessary, thus representing opportunities to improve efficiency and reduce health spending. Our data indicate that there may be sizeable savings to US payers if differences in ED hospitalization practices could be narrowed among a few of these high-variation, low-mortality conditions.