NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


February 12, 2009

The emergency room of the University of Chicago Medical Center may no longer be for every illness or injury.  That's because the hospital is changing the way it admits emergency room patients as part of its effort to deal with the worsening economy, a move underscored by Monday's announcement of 450 layoffs, or 5 percent of its workforce.

The Medical Center's decision to introduce what amounts to a new version of patient triage represents an aggressive and unusual move by one of the city's premier hospitals to cope with spiraling costs and the long waits for emergency treatment, says the Chicago Tribune.

Some don't like the plan, but the Medical Center says it has no choice:

  • The academic medical center in the Hyde Park neighborhood said 40 percent of the 80,000 patients who go to its emergency room each year do not need to be there.
  • These visits cost the hospital tens of millions of dollars a year in time spent by staff and specialists whose attention is redirected to cuts, bruises and other less severe conditions that can be treated at community hospitals or through prescriptions.
  • In addition, the hospital has been dealing with the rising numbers of uninsured, as well as patients covered by Medicaid, which pays low rates and has been months behind on payments to doctors and hospitals in Illinois.

So the hospital is escalating steps to direct these consumers elsewhere, which it says will allow it to focus on treating the sickest of patients, as well as conduct research and train doctors.  Is says costs are 30 percent to 40 percent higher than community hospitals, which are better positioned to treat a variety of patients.

Under the program, the emergency department will be reorganized to provide more evaluations from doctors and nurses before care is given.  In the past, the Medical Center  treated the patients and then educated them about health clinics, setting appointments at doctor's offices and community centers for follow-up care.

Source: Bruce Japsen, "U. of C. emergency room to get more selective; New version of patient triage aims to cope with spiraling costs and long waits for treatment," Chicago Tribune, February 10, 2009.

For text:,0,1975597.story


Browse more articles on Health Issues