WOODLAND HILLS, Calif., July 8, 2011 /PRNewswire/ -- Anthem Blue Cross has launched an emergency room education campaign incorporating Google Maps to make it easier for consumers to find and use retail health clinics and urgent care centers for non-emergency conditions when their regular physicians are not available.
"When your five-year-old is crying with a fever at 7 p.m. on a Friday because she has a sore throat or an ear ache, what do you do?" said Kurt Tamaru, MD, Anthem medical director. "It's important people know that they have options for less serious ailments other than an ER, such as retail health clinics and urgent care centers that provide quality care and cost them significantly less."
For example, emergency rooms that contract with Anthem Blue Cross generally charge an average $641 to treat strep throat compared with $70 at urgent care centers and $27 at retail health clinics. Consumers can save out-of-pocket expenses because ER copays cost about $150, compared with $10 to $40 for retail health clinics and urgent care centers.
"Not only were the ER program's online tools developed to be easy to use—but they are available to everyone," said Pam Kehaly, president, Anthem Blue Cross. "All you have to do is go to Google, Yahoo! or Bing, and type in 'Anthem and urgent care' and our educational site will pop up with a link to help you find ER alternatives. The link will also provide information on when it's appropriate to use these alternatives."
"We see in our data that the highest rates of avoidable ER use are among people 34 and younger—those who are less likely to have a primary care physician but more likely to be technology consumers," Tamaru said. "We chose to develop Google Maps and create online links because that's where many consumers go for information today."
About 17 percent of all visits to hospital emergency departments nationally could potentially be treated at retail medical clinics or urgent care centers for an estimated savings of $4.4 billion, according to a RAND Corp. study published in the September 2010 edition of Health Affairs. ER visits also are getting longer, with California ranked 40th nationally in the length of its ER waits—274 minutes, according to the Emergency Department Pulse Report, Press Ganey Associates, 2010.
Research performed by HealthCore Inc., which conducts research for health plans and others, showed that a pilot program with a commercially insured population in Virginia, which included member education via e-mails and online advertising, in addition to financial incentives and a Google map finder for retail health clinics and urgent care centers, assisted in members' decisions to use ER alternatives for non-emergency care.
The study showed that ER use for conditions that could be treated at retail health or urgent care clinics decreased in 2010 from 2009 for all populations studied. Specifically, HealthCore reported a 14 percent decrease in ER visits for those who participated in the program compared with those who did not. The decrease in visits covered minor sicknesses or conditions that could be treated elsewhere.
"This program demonstrates that by empowering members with information on appropriate resources, they can get the care they need while helping to control health care costs and reduce their out of pocket expenses," added Kehaly.
After the intervention period, the group participating in the program was more than twice as likely to seek treatment for non-emergency conditions at retail health clinics than those who did not participate.
The ER program includes:
- Links on Google, Yahoo! and Bing that drive visitors to an educational site explaining when it's appropriate to use ER alternatives, such as retail health clinics and urgent care centers.
- A Google map, available to everyone, that provides the location of ER alternatives in Anthem's network throughout the state so that consumers can easily find them.
- Automated calls to educate members whose recent ER visits were potentially avoidable, and e-mails to members interested in learning more information.
- Educational pieces mailed explaining the type of conditions that could be treated at ER alternatives and potential differences in cost.
About Anthem Blue Cross:
Anthem Blue Cross is the trade name of Blue Cross of California. Anthem Blue Cross Partnership Plan is the trade name of Blue Cross of California Partnership Plan. Anthem Blue Cross and Anthem Blue Cross Partnership Plan are independent licensees of the Blue Cross Association. ® ANTHEM is a registered trademark of Anthem Insurance Companies, Inc. The Blue Cross names and symbols are registered marks of the Blue Cross Association. Additional information about Anthem Blue Cross is available at www.anthem.com/ca. Also, follow us on Twitter at www.twitter.com/healthjoinin, on Facebook at www.facebook.com/HealthJoinIn, , or visit our YouTube channel at www.youtube.com/healthjoinin
SOURCE Anthem Blue Cross