Every year, people in the US visit the emergency department (ED) 131.3 million times. Those encounters carry a hefty annual price tag of $76.3 billion. But many of these emergency care trips are unnecessary and add to healthcare’s financial burden. In fact, these avoidable visits cost the healthcare industry $47 billion yearly.
Unnecessary ED visits strain resources and divert services from patients with more acute care needs. Consequently, reducing these avoidable encounters is a top healthcare priority. Organizations such as Dispatch Health, a mobile urgent care that comes to your home, are in a prime position to deliver the services many patients need to keep them out of the ED.
Genovista is a joint venture of Innovista Health and Genesis Physicians Group—the largest network of independent physicians in the North Texas area. By forming this accountable care organization (ACO), Innovista Health provides industry expertise and population health technology to help the group reduce costs and succeed in value-based care.
As part of these efforts, in 2019, Genovista launched a partnership with Dispatch Health. The goal, says April Hodges, RN, BSN, Innovista Health’s senior director of medical management, was to support healthcare’s Quintuple Aim—an approach to improving the well-being of patients and providers.
“We want to increase the experience for our patients, improve their quality of care, reduce overall healthcare costs, ease the burden on our physician practices, and address population health,” she says. “Our partnership with Dispatch Health helped us reduce one of the highest costs of overall healthcare dollars—the ED visit.”
This collaboration successfully makes medical services readily available to people in their homes. In 2022, 692 patients used Dispatch Health services in the Dallas market, saving Genovista more than $1.2 million in unnecessary ED costs. Plus, the organization, which accepts all health plans within the ACO, earned a 97% satisfaction rating from patients.
In most cases, a primary care provider should be a patient’s first choice for care. But getting an appointment isn’t always possible. Sometimes the doctor’s schedule is full, or the patient requires assistance during the evening or on weekends. In other instances, a patient may be bedbound, too sick to travel, or lack transportation.
As a mobile urgent care open daily from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m., Dispatch Health fulfills those needs for patients over age 2. “Dispatch Health goes into the community to address patient’s medical concerns, changing the way primary care providers can deliver services,” explains Hodges. “Some of our doctors have even added the Dispatch Health phone number to their after-hours recording.”
For each patient call, Dispatch Health sends out a nurse practitioner or physician assistant and an emergency medical technician (EMT). They are armed with resources usually available at a brick-and-mortar urgent care, such as a mobile X-ray unit and intravenous medications and fluids.
If needed, the EMT can assess the patient for signs of stroke, heart attack, or respiratory failure and escalate their care to the hospital.
During visits, providers also assess a patient’s social determinants of health, including transportation needs and food insecurity. Additionally, they evaluate any safety concerns, such as rugs or cords that may create a fall risk for patients with poor balance.
While Dispatch Health offers many urgent care services, the organization goes several steps further to support and improve the care providers deliver. With the help of 10 physicians, called pod leaders, case managers can routinely evaluate which services best meet patient needs and reduce the burden on physician practices.
In addition, after every at-home visit, Dispatch Health providers send their clinical notes directly to the patient’s primary care provider. They also frequently call the doctor’s office to discuss the patient’s care.
“Getting these notes helps coordinate disease management. Doctors know when their patients have used these services to meet a medical need, and they know when to follow up,” Hodges says. “For example, they know when a patient received temporary treatment for high blood pressure during an at-home visit. Providers can then follow up to change their medication if needed. This communication helps providers better manage chronic disease.”
Dispatch Health also provides valuable information every month that, in turn, can help Genovista improve its services.
“They provide analytics. That isn’t something I get from a regular urgent care or ED,” says Hodges. “They tell me the times when the calls come in and which doctors the patients are going to, and they ask some social determinants of health questions. This way, I know where to send community health workers for follow-up. Plus, their initial question is always whether the patient called their doctor first.”
This information reveals the days patients most frequently use urgent care services. And that data point allows case managers to advise doctors to leave particular days open for patients who need same-day care appointments.
Furthermore, this partnership relieves stress for both patients and providers.
“Dispatch Health eases a patient’s fear over what to do when their doctor isn’t available or if they have a transportation issue. Patients take comfort in knowing they can have their medical needs met without rushing out to the ED,” Hodges says. “Physicians get comfort knowing their patients will receive necessary care that they can help coordinate, and they’ll know what’s going on with their patients to help improve their outcomes.”
Overall, the Dispatch Health-Genovista collaboration has produced significant cost savings—but long-term benefit truly stems from easier access to care, which greatly improves overall patient health.