Health IT Can Alleviate Health Care’s Frequent Flier Problem


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“‘Frequent Fliers’ Add Billions to Hospital Bills,” a recent article in the Washington Post, discusses the frequent flier phenomenon — a condition of our health care system that I have been tracking closely for some time. As the article explains, frequent fliers are patients that have been treated and discharged from hospitals but, for various reasons, repeatedly show up again (usually in the ER) seeking additional treatment that often results in re-admission. A major strain on the system and a source of significant expense, the frequent flier issue is gaining increased attention as health care reform efforts progress.

Over the years, I have concluded that health IT can play a big part in alleviating the frequent flier problem. EHRs would give ER doctors a much clearer and more complete picture of the patient, which in many cases might mean avoiding duplicate tests or unnecessary procedures or altogether averting readmission. As the article suggests, docs would have better interactions with patients to determine, for example, if the patient is taking their medication or if they have seen their primary physician in a timely fashion after being discharged.

Beyond these sorts of anecdotal examples, EHRs are also key in helping to promote wellness. As the study referenced in this iHealth Beat article seems to suggest, having more robust clinical data enables health plans to better monitor members with chronic illnesses and to communicate with them as necessary to ensure they’re taking the appropriate measures to stay healthy. A case manager could monitor the patient’s pharmacy activity, see that they haven’t filled the discharge prescription and contact them to ensure that they do. This could ultimately help avoid that return visit to the ER. The same goes for follow-up physician appointments and other problems that result in frequent flier visits. By deploying EHRs and other technologies to facilitate the sharing of information among all of the entities on the patient’s health care team, we can help people understand their conditions and encourage them to be more vigilant about staying healthy.

As we move further along the path of health care reform, it’s interesting to see more broken parts of the system gain attention. But it’s equally as reassuring to know that technology has the power to help reverse many, if not all, of them.

David St. Clair
David St.Clair founded MEDecision in 1988 to provide healthcare organizations with collaborative healthcare management solutions that provide a simplified and smart way to manage the health of members and member populations. The ultimate aim of MEDecision's technologies is to improve the quality and affordability of care. MEDecision believes that, in the aggregate, its customers insure or manage care for approximately one in every six people in the U.S. with health insurance


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