The Effect of Utilization Review on Emergency Department Operations

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Abstract

Study objective:

Increasingly, hospitals are using utilization review software to reduce hospital admissions in an effort to contain costs. Such practices have the potential to increase the number of unsafe discharges, particularly in public safety-net hospitals. Utilization review software tools are not well studied with regard to their effect on emergency department (ED) operations. We study the effect of prospectively used admission decision support on ED operations.

Methods:

In 2012, Los Angeles County + University of Southern California Medical Center implemented prospective use of computerized admission criteria. After implementation, only ED patients meeting primary review (diagnosis-based criteria) or secondary review (medical necessity as determined by an on-site emergency physician) were assigned inpatient beds. Data were extracted from electronic medical records from September 2011 through December 2013. Outcomes included operational metrics, 30-day ED revisits, and 30-day admission rates. Excluding a 6-month implementation period, monthly summary metrics were compared pre- and postimplementation with nonparametric and negative binomial regression methods. All adult ED visits, excluding incarcerated and purely behavioral health visits, were analyzed. The primary outcomes were disposition rates. Secondary outcomes were 30-day ED revisits, 30-day admission rate among return visitors to the ED, and estimated cost.

Results:

Analysis of 245,662 ED encounters was performed. The inpatient admission rate decreased from 14.2% to 12.8%. Increases in discharge rate (82.4% to 83.4%) and ED observation unit utilization (2.5% to 3.4%) were found. Thirty-day revisits increased (20.4% to 24.4%), although the 30-day admission rate decreased (3.2% to 2.8%). Estimated cost savings totaled $193.17 per ED visit.

Conclusion:

The prospective application of utilization review software in the ED led to a decrease in the admission rate. This was tempered by a concomitant increase in ED observation unit utilization and 30-day ED revisits. Cost savings suggest that resources should be redirected to the more highly affected ED and ED observation unit, although more work is needed to confirm the generalizability of these findings.

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