Nine patients made nearly 2,700 ER visits

April 1, 2009 11:11:19 AM PDT
Nine people accounted for nearly 2,700 of the emergency room visits in Central Texas during the past six years at a cost of $3 million to taxpayers and others, according to a report. The patients -- eight from Austin and one from Luling -- went to emergency rooms 2,678 times between 2003 and 2008, said the report from the nonprofit Integrated Care Collaboration, a group of health care providers who care for low-income and uninsured patients.

"What we're really trying to do is find out who's using our emergency rooms ... and find solutions," said Ann Kitchen, executive director of the group, which presented the report last week to the Travis County Healthcare District board.

The average emergency room visit costs $1,000. Hospitals and taxpayers paid the bill through government programs such as Medicare and Medicaid, Kitchen said.

Of the nine patients, eight have drug abuse problems, seven were diagnosed with mental health issues and three were homeless. Five are women whose average age is 40, and four are men whose average age is 50. A confidential database also found 900 frequent users, people who were in ER six or more times in three months.

They had more than 2,000 preventable visits to Central Texas ERs in 2007, Kitchen said in Wednesday's Austin American-Statesman. "It's a pretty significant issue," said Dr. Christopher

Ziebell, chief of the emergency department at University Medical Center at Brackenridge, which has the area's busiest ERs in the area.

Solutions include referring some frequent users to mental health programs or primary care doctors so they would go there first in the future, Ziebell said.

"They have a variety of complaints," Ziebell said. With mental illness, "a lot of anxiety manifests as chest pain," he said.

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