Understanding Why Patients of Low Socioeconomic Status Prefer Hospitals Over Ambulatory Care
Patients with low socioeconomic status use more acute hospital care and less primary care.
Patients with low socioeconomic status (SES) use more acute hospital care and less primary care than patients with high socioeconomic status. This low-value pattern of care use is harmful to these patients’ health and costly to the health care system. Many current policy initiatives, such as the creation of accountable care organizations, aim to improve both health outcomes and the cost-effectiveness of health services. Achieving those goals requires understanding what drives low value health care use.
The researchers conducted qualitative interviews with 40 urban low-SES patients to explore why they prefer to use hospital care. They perceive it as less expensive, more accessible, and of higher quality than ambulatory care. Efforts that focus solely on improving the quality of hospital care to reduce readmissions could, paradoxically, increase hospital use. Two different profile types emerged from their research.
Patients in Profile A (five or more acute care episodes in six months) reported social dysfunction and disability. Those in Profile B (fewer than five acute care episodes in six months) reported social stability but found accessing ambulatory care to be difficult. Interventions to improve outcomes and values need to take these differences into account.