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High touch, high trust: Using community health advocates and lawyers to address ED high utilizers

Shankar KN, Dugas JN, Flacks J, Brahim MC, Morton S, James T, Mitchell P
Am J Emerg Med

BACKGROUND: Emergency department (ED) high utilizers are a costly group of patients due to their higher utilzation of acute care costs. At a safety-net hospital, we enrolled patients in a program which partnered with lawyers and community health advocates (CHAs) to navigate patients' social, medical and legal needs. Our aim was to decrease costs and utilization and address the patient's social determinants of heath (SDOH). METHODS: We enrolled patients with 4 or more ED visits in the prior 6 months and gave them SDOH and medical questionnaires. Patients were followed for 6 months on a weekly, then bi-monthly basis. All utilization and cost data were obtained through an internal data warehouse and evaluated using a pre-post analysis and broken down into quartiles. RESULTS: ED, admission, and total costs did not differ significantly between the 12 months pre-enrollment and the 12 months post-enrollment. Outpatient costs did increase ($2182 increase, p < 0.005). ED visits declined significantly in the post-enrollment period (IRR = 0.84, p = 0.048), with the highest impact on those with <7 ED visits. Total admissions did not decline (IRR 0.84, p = 0.059). But, among those with 4 or 5 ED visits, admission costs and visits decreased. On average, six SDOH issues were identified. Of these, approximately 30.3% were mitigated with up to 17% requiring legal help. CONCLUSION: While outpatient costs did increase, total costs did not decrease in this program. This type of non-clinical intervention may be best served for patients who are less clinically complex but significant social needs.

Shankar KN, Dugas JN, Flacks J, et al. High touch, high trust: using community health advocates and lawyers to address ED high utilizers. Am J Emerg Med. 2022;60:171-176. DOI:10.1016/j.ajem.2022.07.049. PMID: 36037733

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Publication year
Resource type
Peer Reviewed Research
Social Needs/ SDH
Complex Patients
Social Determinant of Health
Economic Security
Health Care Access
Housing Stability
Legal Services
Social Support/Social Isolation
Study design
Pre-post without Comparison Group