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A Patient Guide to Quality Care

Far too many people visit the emergency room for non-urgent conditions. It's a costly "healthcare" option, and it takes hospital resources away from true life-threatening cases.

At Providence Medford Medical Center, Alicia Tyler is on hand to help set ER patients down the right path. Tyler is neither a doctor nor an insurance company representative. Rather, she is the Emergency Department Patient Guide, a new position funded by Jackson Care Connect, the Coordinated Care Organization that provides health services to Oregon Health Plan members.

Her role is to meet with visitors to Providence's emergency department and guide them to ongoing care, a relationship with a general practitioner, and insurance options if necessary.

"There are a lot of people who come in for a cough or cold, or they have a chronic issue but no primary-care doctor," she says.

If ER nurses feel a person fits the profile, they contact Tyler, who speaks with the patient after getting permission from the attending physician. She explains her role and, with the patient, figures out the best way to secure ongoing, routine care.

That could mean finding a physician who accepts the person's insurance, or who practices nearby. For the uninsured, it may be a referral to a free clinic or to a sliding-scale doctor, or to an agency that helps patients navigate the new Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (healthcare.gov) website. And for some, it just means a little education about what the emergency room is actually for.

"Most people are like, 'Wow! There's someone here to help me find a doctor?' and they get really excited," Tyler explains. "I ask them about what's going on in their lives, what are the barriers to them having a primary care doctor."

Tyler's intervention during a patient's ER visits has no bearing on the treatment he or she receives at the time. It's strictly meant to help after the fact.

"My position," Tyler explains, "aims to improve the patient experience, improve the health of the population, and reduce the per capita cost of healthcare for everyone."

- Photo courtesy of Providence Medford Medical Center