Coordination Between Emergency and Primary Care Physicians

Haphazard Communication Undermines Effective Care; Solutions Difficult

News Release
Feb. 24, 2011

Alwyn Cassil (202) 264-3484 or

WASHINGTON , DC—An examination of emergency and primary care physicians’ ability—and willingness—to communicate found that haphazard communication and poor coordination can undermine effective care, accordingto a new study conducted by the Center for Studying Health System Change (HSC) for the nonpartisan, nonprofit National Institute for Health Care Reform (NIHCR).

Little attention has been paid to care coordination for patients treated in hospital emergency departments (EDs), according to the study. As more people become insured under health reform coverage expansions, ED use likely will increase, along with the importance of better coordination between emergency and primary care physicians to avoid duplicative and misapplied treatment.

 “There are no easy answers to the coordination issues between emergency and primary care physicians. Policy makers will need to examine a broad range of ways to address the problem—pieces of the puzzle include payment reforms, standards for health information technology and malpractice liability reform,” said HSC Senior Researcher Emily Carrier, M.D., M.S.C.I., coauthor of the study with Tracy Yee, Ph.D., HSC researcher; and Rachel A. Holzwart, a survey associate at Mathematica Policy Research.

The study’s findings are detailed in a new NIHCR Research Brief—Coordination Between Emergency and Primary Care Physicians—available online at Researchers conducted 42 telephone interviews between April and October 2010 with 21 pairs of emergency department and primary care physicians.Emergency department and primary care physicians were case-matched to hospitals so the perspective of both specialties working with the same hospital could be represented.  Other key findings include:

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The National Institute for Health Care Reform contracts with the Washington, D.C.-based Center for Studying Health System Change to conduct high-quality, objective research and policy analyses of the organization, financing and delivery of health care in the United States. The nonpartisan, nonprofit 501 (c)(3)organization was created by the International Union, UAW; Chrysler Group LLC; Ford Motor Company; and General Motors to help inform policy makers and other decision-makers about options to expand access to high-quality, affordable health care to all Americans.

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The Center for Studying Health System Change is a nonpartisan policy research organization committed to providing objective and timely research on the nation’s changing health system to help inform policy makers and contribute to better health care policy. HSC, based in Washington, D.C., is affiliated with Mathematica Policy Research.