Objective: To examine whether continuity of care with an individual health care provider is associated with the number of hospital emergency department (ED) visits in a statewide Medicaid population.
Design: A cross-sectional study based on a 100% sample of Delaware Medicaid claims for 1 year (July 1, 1993, to June 30, 1994). Continuity with a single provider during the year was computed for each participant.
Setting: The state of Delaware.
Participants: Continuously enrolled Medicaid clients aged 0 to 64 years who had made at least 3 physician office visits during the study year (N = 11,474).
Main outcome measures: Likelihood of making a single ED visit or multiple ED visits during the study year.
Results: In multivariate analysis, continuity is associated with a significantly lower likelihood of making a single ED visit (odds ratio, 0.82; 95% confidence interval, 0.70-0.95), and is even more strongly associated with a lower likelihood of making multiple ED visits (odds ratio, 0.65; 95% confidence interval, 0.56-0.76).
Conclusions: This study demonstrates that high provider continuity is associated with lower ED use for the Medicaid population. This suggests that strategies to improve continuity of care may result in lower ED use and possibly reduced health care costs. Such strategies may be more acceptable than current managed care policies that attempt to control costs by denying access to emergency care.