Objectives: To test an intervention designed to improve primary care use and decrease emergency department (ED) utilization for uninsured patients using the ED.
Methods: Using a randomized design, an intensive case-management intervention was tested with patients identified at a Level 1 urban trauma center from April 2002 through July 2002. Following assessment in the ED, six-month follow-up data were gathered from four primary care sites (two Federally Qualified Health Centers, two hospital outpatient clinics) and two area hospitals. Eligible participants were uninsured, were at least 18 years of age, and did not have a regular primary care provider. Of 281 patients approached, 273 (97.2%) agreed to participate. After 42 patients were eliminated following enrollment due to ineligibility, there were 121 intervention and 109 comparison subjects. Health Promotion Advocates (HPAs) in the ED gathered information from all study participants. On intervention shifts, HPAs assisted patients in choosing a primary care provider and faxed all information to a case worker at the selected site. Case managers attempted to contact patients and schedule appointments. On comparison shifts, patients received care as usual. Primary care contact in 60 days and subsequent ED visits in six months post-ED assessment were the main outcome measures.
Results: Intervention subjects were more likely to have a primary care contact (51.2% vs. 13.8%, p < 0.0001). There was no statistically significant difference between groups in either number of inpatient admissions or postintervention ED visits, although postintervention ED visits for the intervention group were less expensive.
Conclusions: This project has demonstrated that it is possible to improve primary care follow-up for uninsured ED patients.