Anthem: Using Google Maps and education to empower consumers to choose ER alternatives for non-emergency conditions

MILWAUKEE—September 7, 2011—Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield in Wisconsin (Anthem) has launched an emergency room education campaign incorporating Google Maps to make it easier for consumers to find and use walk-in clinics and urgent care centers for non-emergency conditions when their regular physicians are not available.

“When your five-year-old is crying with a fever at 7 p.m. on a Friday because she has a sore throat or an ear ache, what do you do?” said Dr. Michael Jaeger, medical director for Anthem in Wisconsin. “It’s important people know that they have options for less serious ailments other than an emergency room, such as retail health clinics and urgent care centers that provide quality care and cost them significantly less.”

For example, emergency rooms (ER) that contract with Anthem generally charge an average $641 to treat strep throat compared with $70 at urgent care centers and $27 at retail health clinics. Consumers can save out-of-pocket expenses because ER copays cost about $200, compared with $15 to $40 for doctor’s visits, walk-in clinics and urgent care centers.

“Not only were the ER program’s online tools developed to be easy to use — but they are available to everyone,” said Larry Schreiber, president of Anthem in Wisconsin. “All you have to do is go to Google, Yahoo! or Bing, and type in ‘Anthem and urgent care’ and our educational site will pop up with a link to help you find other options of participating ER alternatives. The link will also provide information on when it’s appropriate to use these alternatives.”

The webpage also provides information on when it’s appropriate to go to the emergency room.

“We see in our data that the highest rates of avoidable ER use are among people 34 and younger—those who are less likely to have a primary care physician but more likely to be technology consumers,” Jaeger said. “We chose to develop Google Maps and create online advertising because that’s where people go for information when they’re deciding whether to go to the ER or not.”

About 17 percent of all visits to hospital emergency departments nationally could potentially be treated at retail medical clinics or urgent care centers for an estimated savings of $4.4 billion, according to a RAND Corp. study published in the September 2010 edition of Health Affairs. ER visits also are getting longer, with Wisconsin ER waits averaging 197 minutes, according to the Emergency Department Pulse Report, Press Ganey Associates, 2010.

Research performed by HealthCore Inc., which conducts research for health plans and others, showed that a pilot program with a commercially insured population in Virginia, which included member education via e-mails and online advertising, in addition to financial incentives and a Google map finder for retail health clinics and urgent care centers, assisted in members’ decisions to use ER alternatives for non-emergency care.

The study showed that ER use for conditions that could be treated at retail health or urgent care clinics decreased in 2010 from 2009 for all populations studied. Specifically, HealthCore reported a 14 percent decrease in ER visits for those who participated in the program compared with those who did not. The decrease in visits covered minor sicknesses or conditions that could be treated elsewhere.

“This program demonstrates that by empowering members with information on appropriate resources, they can still get the care they need while helping to control health care costs,” said Jaeger.

After the intervention period, the group participating in the program was more than twice as likely to seek treatment for non-emergency conditions at retail health clinics than those who did not participate.

The ER program includes:

* Ads on Google, Yahoo! and Bing that drive visitors to an educational site explaining when it’s appropriate to use ER alternatives, such as retail health clinics and urgent care centers.

* A Google map, available to everyone, that provides the location of ER alternatives in Anthem’s network throughout the state so that consumers can easily find them.

* Automated calls to educate members whose recent ER visits were potentially avoidable, and e-mails to members interested in learning more information.

* Educational pieces mailed explaining the type of conditions that could be treated at ER alternatives and potential differences in cost.

About Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield in Wisconsin

Blue Cross Blue Shield of Wisconsin (“BCBSWi”) underwrites or administers the PPO and indemnity policies; Compcare Health Services Insurance Corporation (“Compcare”) underwrites or administers the HMO policies; and Compcare and BCBSWi collectively underwrite or administer the POS policies. Independent licensees of the Blue Cross and Blue Shield Association. ® ANTHEM is a registered trademark of Anthem Insurance Companies, Inc. The Blue Cross and Blue Shield names and symbols are registered marks of the Blue Cross and Blue Shield Association. Additional information about Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield in Wisconsin is available at http://www.anthem.com. Also, follow us on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/healthjoinin, on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/HealthJoinIn, or visit our YouTube channel at http://www.youtube.com/healthjoinin.

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Contact:

Scott Larrivee, Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield, 262-523-4746, [email protected]