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Fewer Utah patients heading to the emergency room

Posted at 5:37 PM, Nov 14, 2019
and last updated 2019-11-14 19:37:25-05

SALT LAKE CITY  — Fewer people are going to the emergency department when they are sick, according to a Health Status Update from the Utah Department of Health.

Instead of going to the hospital’s emergency department, more Utahns are utilizing telehealth or urgent care facilities. This is a new trend UDOH’s data team has seen in the last few years.

“We’ve heard rumblings that there might be some more urgent care clinics being built or telehealth is starting to come into the market, so we wanted to see if it was in the data,” said Brantley Scott, APCD and facilities data quality projects manager, UDOH.

A trip to the emergency room in Utah will likely cost patients five and a half times more than a trip to urgent care, according to UDOH.

Each year about two-thirds, or 18 million, of emergency department visits are “avoidable,” according to UnitedHealth Group. The average cost for a visit to the emergency department without insurance costs about $2,000, a trip to a primary care physician is about $150, and a trip to urgent care is about $200, United Health group reports.

Telehealth usually comes with a much lower price tag. A virtual visit through Intermountain Connect Care costs about $50 without insurance.

“Telehealth is becoming a more mainstream method of providing care,” Kerry Palakanis, Exec. Dir. Connect Care, said.

Intermountain Connect Care providers see around 100-120 patients each day, with around 150 patients a day expected as cold and flu season approaches. Ninety percent of people call in on their smartphones, and ten percent call in on their tablets or computer. People will speak with a provider via a web camera.

“When I first started, we would be happy to see one or two patients an entire shift and now it’s pretty steady from the moment we go online until the end of the day,” said Connect Care provider, Wayne Crawford, PA-C.

Telehealthcare services like Connect Care aren't always enough to give patients what they need.

“Twenty percent of folks who utilize our Connect Care service, we actually don’t actually provide care to. We help transfer them to an appropriate site of care,” Palakanis said. That can mean a trip to urgent care or the emergency room may be necessary.

The hope is for more people to understand the proper use of the emergency department. When that happens, Scott believes even more people will use telehealth and urgent care facilities and save money and resources in the process.