Primary care doctors can help patients reduce “avoidable” trips to the ER


Emergency room departments (ERs) play an important part in the delivery of emergency care. However, ERs are now providing care for conditions that are “not an actual emergency” and “avoidable,” according to the U.S. News and World Report.1

Primary care providers (PCPs) can help reduce these “avoidable” emergency room visits by:

  • Making after-hours care a topic of conversation:
    • Talk to your patients to let them know what the appropriate use of the emergency room department is and when they should go there for treatment.
    • Tell your patients to add after-hours number(s) for your practice to their mobile phone contacts.
    • If your patient does visit an ER, follow up with them by email, phone or mail. And have them visit you within 30 days of their emergency room visit for follow-up care.
  • Providing patients with alternative after-hours options:
    • Include access-to-care and after-hours instructions in your new-patient materials (e.g., welcome letter) or reports that you may give to your patient after each visit.
    • Make sure your patients know your office hours and telephone numbers and how evening and weekend coverage is provided to patients.
    • Educate patients on how to schedule same-day appointments for urgent needs and on what to do for urgent medical problems when the office is closed.
    • Provide patients with contact information for nearby “partnering” urgent care centers.

Your patients listen to you — and it will help them. According to the Society for Academic Emergency Medicine’s ED Crowding Task Force, emergency room crowding has led to “several adverse impacts on patient outcomes related to patient safety, care timeliness, patient centeredness, efficiency, effectiveness and equity.”2

1 Williams J. ‘Avoidable’ ER Visits Fuels Health Care Costs. U.S. News & World Report. 22 July 2019. (last accessed 14 Jan. 2020).
2 Tsai M, Xirasagar S, Carroll S and et. al. Reducing High-Users’ Visits to the Emergency Department by a Primary Care Intervention for the Uninsured: A Retrospective Study. Inquiry. Published online 2018 Mar 28. doi: 10.1177/0046958018763917 (last accessed 14 Jan. 2020)