PRESQUE ISLE, Maine — Nationwide, one of the factors cited as driving up the cost of health care is the number of people who do not have doctors of their own and instead seek out treatment in emergency rooms when they become ill.
The Aroostook Medical Center has come up with an idea to try and reverse that trend at a local level through action and education.
Officials with the Presque Isle hospital announced on Monday that they had received a $193,642 grant from the Maine Health Access Foundation to establish the Northern Maine Advanced Medical Home Collaborative. The initiative will identify, screen and enroll high-cost patients who do not have a primary care physician and connect them with TAMC’s Family Practice and Internal Medicine.
It is a necessary move, according to Dr. David Weed, who serves as the program’s medical director. Weed said there are a “significant number” of community residents who use the emergency department as their primary source of health care.
“This is clearly not in their best interest from a quality of care standpoint and or cost utilization point of view,” he said. “In the long run, these folks will be better served if they have an ongoing relationship with one of our primary care providers.”
The hospital applied for the grant based on data from the 2010 OneMaine Health Community Health Needs Assessment study, which indicated that Aroostook County would benefit from such a program. Data revealed that emergency department visits are 68,196 per 100,000 residents compared to 47,665 statewide. Admission for patients with medical conditions that should not have led to hospitalization if they had been treated in a timely fashion with adequate primary care are 1,510 per 100,000 residents compared to 967 per 100,000 statewide.
Aroostook County also has higher numbers than the state when it comes to individuals who cite they have no “usual source of care.” According to the OneMaine Health study, 20 percent of men and 9.1 percent of women in The County say they have no “usual source of care” compared to 18 and 8.3 percent respectively statewide.
Individuals who have had multiple hospital or emergency room visits or stays will be given first priority into the Northern Maine Advanced Medical Home Collaborative. With the program getting underway, Weed said that one of the first steps the hospital has taken has been to try to improve communication between its primary care providers and the emergency department in order to minimize the repetitive and expensive use of its emergency department.
“We also continue to try to educate our patient population that utilizing the emergency department for their primary source of care is not in their best interest in either the short or long run,” he said. “We are also working diligently to improve access to our primary care providers. This grant will help continue these efforts.”
The TAMC grant is the only such award to a northern Maine healthcare organization and one of eleven awarded to Maine nonprofits dedicated to overhauling health care delivery and payment approaches that reduce costs, maximize value and deliver better health to Mainers.