To ER or Not to ER? Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Georgia Uses Google Maps and Online Education to Empower Consumers to Choose ER Alternatives for Non-Emergencies
ATLANTA—July 12, 2011—Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Georgia (BCBSGa) successfully 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?” asked Dr. Manish Oza, a medical director with one of our affiliated health plans. Dr. Oza was instrumental in shaping the program and also practices as an ER physician. “It is important for people to 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 BCBSGa generally charge an average $478 to treat strep throat compared with $66 at urgent care centers and $34 at retail health clinics. Consumers can save out-of-pocket expenses because ER copays range from $100 to $150, compared with $25 to $60 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 Morgan Kendrick, president, BCBSGa. “All you have to do is go to Google, Yahoo! or Bing, and type in ‘Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Georgia (or BCBSGa) and urgent care’ and our educational site will pop up with a link to help you find other options for participating ER alternatives. The link will also provide information on when it’s appropriate to use these alternatives.”
The webpage reinforces when it’s appropriate to go to the emergency room.
“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,” Oza said. “We chose to develop Google Maps and create online advertising because that’s where people go for information when they’re deciding whether to go to the ER or not.”
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 Georgia ranked 32nd nationally in the length of its ER waits—249—minutes according to the Emergency Department Pulse Report, Press Ganey Associates, 2010.
Research performed from January 2009 through June 2010 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.
This research 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 still get the care they need while helping to control health care costs,” said Dr. Robert McCormack, medical director for BCBSGa.
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:
• Ads 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 Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Georgia:
Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Georgia, Inc. and Blue Cross Blue Shield Healthcare Plan of Georgia, Inc. are independent licensees of the Blue Cross and Blue Shield Association® . The Blue Cross and Blue Shield names and symbols are registered marks of the Blue Cross and Blue Shield Association. Additional information about Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Georgia is available at www.bcbsga.com. Also, follow us on Twitter at www.twitter.com/healthjoinin, on Facebook at www.facebook.com/HealthJoinInBCBSGa, visit our YouTube channel at www.youtube.com/healthjoinin or check out the Our Health Connects Us campaign site at http://connects.bcbsga.com/.