Excellus BCBS airs funny ads to cut avoidable ER visits

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More than 40 percent of emergency room (ER) visits--amounting to 700,000 visits a year--in upstate New York are avoidable, concludes an analysis from Excellus Blue Cross Blue Shield, so the insurer is taking steps to decrease those unnecessary visits.

In conjunction with local medical societies, Excellus is launching television and radio ads urging people to call their primary care doctor rather than go to the ER for minor health problems, reports the Democrat and Chronicle.

Avoidable emergency visits, according to the Excellus report, include "non-emergent care" that isn't needed within 12 hours, such as back aches, and "emergent/primary care treatable" visits in which care could have been delivering in a primary care setting, such as ear infections and acute upper respiratory infections.

Excellus said up to $53 million could be saved if patients went to the physician's office instead of the ER for minor problems. "True emergencies belong in the ER," Frank Dubeck, Excellus, vice president and chief medical officer, medical policy, told Buffalo Business First. "But most sore throats and earaches, for example, should be seen by your primary care doctor. Your doctor will likely see you more quickly and your copay for a doctor visit will be less."

The campaign aims to boost public awareness of ER overuse with humorous public service-style ads that show a frantic ER staff rushing to treat a patient with sniffles as a nurse wonders, "Has the family been notified?" reports the Rochester Business Journal.

To measure the ad campaign's effect, Excellus will track ER and urgent care visits, notes the Democrat and Chronicle .

To learn more:
- read the Excellus report (.pdf)
- read the Democrat and Chronicle article
- see the Buffalo Business First article
- check out the Rochester Business Journal article

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