Preventing or accelerating emergency care for children with complex healthcare needs.
OBJECTIVE: A subgroup of children with special health care needs (CSHCN) have chronic and complex medical conditions and frequently attend the emergency department (ED). Some of these ED visits could be prevented through appropriate clinician advice or, if an ED visit is unavoidable, the management time could be decreased. We set out to determine whether an ED-based advice and coordination programme was feasible and could prevent or accelerate ED care for these patients. METHODS, SETTING AND PATIENTS: We identified CSHCN who frequently attended the ED at a large tertiary children's hospital. These patients were enrolled in an ED-based coordination programme, the Accelerated Care through Emergency (ACE) programme providing 24-hour mobile-phone access to experienced ED nurses. We prospectively tracked usage patterns and determined the rate of ED visits after receiving phone advice and the waiting time for patients to be seen in ED. Parental satisfaction and cost of the programme were also assessed.
RESULTS: After a pilot phase in 2002, enrollment in the programme increased from 125 in 2003 to 220 patients in 2006. Patients had a broad range of medical conditions. All had two or more and up to 22 medical services involved in their care. 80% of patients used a technical device or implant. Phone calls increased from an initial average of 31 per month in 2003 (0.24 calls per participant) to 66 per month in 2006 (0.3 calls per participant), 60% of which were after hours. The percentage of ED reviews per phone call dropped from an initial 74.2% (95% CI 55.2%-88.1%) in 2003 to 50.0% (95% CI 37.4%-62.5%) in 2006 (p = 0.02). However, decreases in ED visits and admissions as a percentage of enrolled patients and as a percentage of phone calls to ACE staff were not statistically significant. Mean waiting time for enrolled patients remained below 30 minutes. Parent satisfaction with the programme was rated 8.3 on a 0-10 scale (0 meaning poor, 10 meaning excellent). The approximate cost of the programme per child was AU$750 (292 pounds sterling) per year.
CONCLUSION: We have developed a coordinated approach towards the provision of healthcare for a group of families with diverse severe chronic medical conditions who frequently present to the ED. Through a comprehensive programme including the development of patient-care plans, care coordination and 24-hour mobile-phone access we were able to enhance families' capacities to manage their children's conditions in the community.
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