Safety Net Hospital Emergency Departments

Creating Safety Valves for Non-Urgent Care

Hospital emergency departments (EDs) are caring for more patients, including those with non-urgent needs that could be treated in alternative, more cost-effective settings, such as a clinic or physician's office. According to findings from the Center for Studying Health System Change's (HSC) 2007 site visits to 12 nationally representative metropolitan communities, many emergency departments at safety net hospitals—the public and not-for-profit hospitals that serve large proportions of low-income, uninsured and Medicaid patients—are attempting to meet patients' non-urgent needs more efficiently. Safety net EDs are working to redirect non-urgent patients to their hospitals' outpatient clinics or to community health centers and clinics, with varied results. Efforts to develop additional primary, specialty and dental care in community settings, along with promoting the use of these providers, could stem the use of emergency departments for non-urgent care, while increasing access to care, enhancing quality and containing costs.