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‘Microhospitals’ Fill Some Emergency Room Needs

Tiny, fully licensed hospitals resemble stand-alone EDs

With an eye on fast-growing urban and suburban markets, some health care systems are opening tiny, full-service hospitals with comprehensive emergency services but often with fewer than a dozen inpatient beds, according to a report from Kaiser Health News.

These “microhospitals” provide local residents with quicker access to emergency care, and they may also offer outpatient surgery, primary care, and other services. They are generally affiliated with larger health care systems, which can use the smaller facilities to expand in an area without incurring the cost of a full-scale hospital. So far, microhospitals are being developed in only a few states—Texas, Colorado, Nevada, and Arizona.

Analysts liken microhospitals to stand-alone emergency departments (EDs), which have been cropping up in recent years in fast-growing metropolitan areas where people are often well-insured and waits at regular hospital EDs may be long. Both can handle many emergencies and are equipped with laboratory, imaging, and some diagnostic capabilities.

Unlike stand-alone EDs, however, microhospitals are fully licensed hospitals with inpatient beds to accommodate people admitted from the emergency room. They may have other capabilities as well, including surgical suites, a labor and delivery room, and primary care or specialist services on site or nearby.

One of the advantages of a microhospital is that it can help connect patients with specialty and primary care physician networks, according to Peggy Sanborn of Dignity Health, a health care system with facilities in Nevada, Arizona, and California. In Las Vegas, for example, the microhospital design includes a second floor with separate specialty and primary-care physician offices to which patients could be referred.

The growing interest in microhospitals can be linked to the shift toward providing more care in outpatient settings, said Priya Bathija of the American Hospital Association (AHA). In addition to the emergency department, the facilities can include medical home services and other outpatient services.

Between 2010 and 2014, the annual number of inpatient hospital admissions declined by more than 2 million to 33.1 million, according to figures from the AHA. Meanwhile, the total number of outpatient hospital visits increased to 693.1 million in 2014 from 651.4 million four years earlier.

Microhospitals offer an opportunity to “really ramp up outpatient services,” Bathija said.

Source: Kaiser Health News; July 19, 2016.

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