Emergency rooms across Canada triage and treat a steady, sometimes ballooning, stream of patients on any given day. The sophisticated facilities of these hospital departments are designed to respond to life-threatening circumstances and provide intensive medical care for illnesses or accidents requiring immediate attention. But not all visitors are using the department appropriately, many times through no choice of their own. The Canadian Institute for Health Information notes that millions of Canadians rely on their local emergency room for treatment of minor medical concerns. Among those patients are a high number of seniors who use the ER to treat conditions that could have been prevented or avoided.
What will be unavoidable is the increased numbers of ER visits by seniors in the coming years, a rise that’s proportionate to the demographic influx of an aging population running into more complicated health conditions without adequate services to meet their health needs.
“We’ve been successful in implementing a number of strategies that have reduced the reliance on the emergency department...strategies that may compensate for the aging population,” says Eric Hanna, President and CEO of Arnprior Regional Health.
Arnprior, an Ontario town nestled in Renfrew County, has a growing population that currently hovers just over 8,000. More than half of the town’s residents are over 45 years old. That number is higher than the national average.
What is a wave of an older population coming through emergency department doors across the country could be an even stronger surge in retirement communities, like Arnprior. The town’s hospital boasts a successful track record of innovative strategies to decrease ER volume. One recently adopted model – a program whereby a nurse follows-up with discharged patients by phone – is helping them counter the repeat customer syndrome of older ER patients.
“People should not be re-admitted to the hospital for something that could have been prevented,” says Hanna.
“Within 72 hours of discharge, patients get a call,” he explains. “The first thing we check for is ‘did you get your prescriptions filled?’, number two, ‘did you have an appointment with your family doctor?,’ and three, ‘do you know the signs and symptoms that may suggest you are in trouble or that require you to come back to the hospital?’”
It seems like a simple model, of a hospital reaching out and checking up on the patients they just treated. Some might say it is a return to a level of service we have lost in a modern and resource-stretched health care system. As Hanna has witnessed in Arnprior, it is a model that delivers impact and is well worth the extra effort.
“The evidence is clear and it makes sense,” says Hanna. “What that on-going follow-up in the community...we have cut re-admission rates by 50 percent. Most of those people would have been readmitted through the emergency department.”
Strategies like this are small but significant strides in meeting the community’s health needs at eye level. As Hanna directs Arnprior Regional Health through more innovative approaches, he stays true to this mantra; “it is about having the right care, at the right place, at the right time.”