How have patterns of care for low-acuity patients with acute conditions changed over time among a commercially insured population?
In this cohort study of data from a large commercial health plan from 2008 to 2015, emergency department visits per enrollee for the treatment of low-acuity conditions decreased by 36%, whereas utilization of non–emergency department acute care venues increased by 140%. There was a net increase in overall utilization of acute care venues for the treatment of low-acuity conditions and in associated spending.
Between 2008 and 2015, there were substantial shifts at which venue Americans received acute care for low-acuity conditions.
Over the past 2 decades, a variety of new care options have emerged for acute care, including urgent care centers, retail clinics, and telemedicine. Trends in the utilization of these newer care venues and the emergency department (ED) have not been characterized.
To describe trends in visits to different acute care venues, including urgent care centers, retail clinics, telemedicine, and EDs, with a focus on visits for treatment of low-acuity conditions.
Design, Setting, and Participants
This cohort study used deidentified health plan claims data from Aetna, a large, national, commercial health plan, from January 1, 2008, to December 31, 2015, with approximately 20 million insured members per study year. Descriptive analysis was performed for health plan members younger than 65 years. Data analysis was performed from December 28, 2016, to February 20, 2018.
Main Outcomes and Measures
Utilization, inflation-adjusted price, and spending associated with visits for treatment of low-acuity conditions. Low-acuity conditions were identified using diagnosis codes and included acute respiratory infections, urinary tract infections, rashes, and musculoskeletal strains.
This study included 20.6 million acute care visits for treatment of low-acuity conditions over the 8-year period. Visits to the ED for the treatment of low-acuity conditions decreased by 36% (from 89 visits per 1000 members in 2008 to 57 visits per 1000 members in 2015), whereas use of non-ED venues increased by 140% (from 54 visits per 1000 members in 2008 to 131 visits per 1000 members in 2015). There was an increase in visits to all non-ED venues: urgent care centers (119% increase, from 47 visits per 1000 members in 2008 to 103 visits per 1000 members in 2015), retail clinics (214% increase, from 7 visits per 1000 members in 2008 to 22 visits per 1000 members in 2015), and telemedicine (from 0 visits in 2008 to 6 visits per 1000 members in 2015). Utilization and spending per person per year for low-acuity conditions had net increases of 31% (from 143 visits per 1000 members in 2008 to 188 visits per 1000 members in 2015) and 14% ($70 per member in 2008 to $80 per member in 2015), respectively. The increase in spending was primarily driven by a 79% increase in price per ED visit for treatment of low-acuity conditions (from $914 per visit in 2008 to $1637 per visit in 2015).
Conclusions and Relevance
From 2008 to 2015, total acute care utilization for the treatment of low-acuity conditions and associated spending per member increased, and utilization of non-ED acute care venues increased rapidly. These findings suggest that patients are more likely to visit urgent care centers than EDs for the treatment of low-acuity conditions.
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Poon SJ, Schuur JD, Mehrotra A. Trends in Visits to Acute Care Venues for Treatment of Low-Acuity Conditions in the United States From 2008 to 2015. JAMA Intern Med. 2018;178(10):1342–1349. doi:10.1001/jamainternmed.2018.3205
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