A pilot study is looking to slash the amount of taxpayer money spent on people who present at the emergency department instead of their GP or an accident clinic.
Waikato DHB's emergency department treated 65,574 people last year at a cost of at least $23 million, with non-urgent patients costing between $350 and $440 to treat.
But a Primary Health Organisation, Midlands Health primary study is showing the cost of treating such patients could be cut by two-thirds by keeping people away from hospitals.
The news was well received at a DHB board meeting yesterday and comes just days after new health targets showed Waikato DHB struggling to get people through their EDs in under 6 hours.
Waikato fell well short of the government-set 95per cent target, with just 86per cent, and are currently the second-worst performing DHB on that health target.
Waikato DHB chief executive Craig Climo told the board he'd already had a phone call from the Health Ministry about the target lag.
And with a 10per cent increase of people turning up to the ED each year - especially over the holiday periods - the DHB are in urgent need of a solution.
During last year's holiday period, Waikato Hospital ED saw a record number of 45 people a day, with some turning up just for prescription renewals.
Midlands Primary Options pilot relies on keeping people out of the ED by making sure patient needs can be met by GPs or accident clinics.
At present, about 40per cent of patients who go to the ED have been referred by their GP for further treatment.
Yesterday Midlands chief executive John Macaskill-Smith said while the pilot started only on October 1, they were already seeing positive results.
Of the 257 acute patients who'd been through the pilot, just 12per cent needed to be referred on to the ED.
Primary Options works by giving GPs access to a greater range of diagnostic and logistical services to help treat patients with acute illnesses in the community, instead of sending them to hospital specialists.
Patients also receive a full care plan within 60 minutes of their referral.
And the best part for the patient is that apart from the initial GP consult fee (which is sometimes zero), all follow-up treatment is free, including home visits.
Mr Macaskill-Smith told board members eventually he'd like to set up a single information line that would tell people what their first port of call should be to reduce confusion around after-hours care. He'd also like to link Healthline with GPs.
In Australia they'd seen a 40per cent drop in the need for a face-to-face consult just by providing people with GPs to speak to, Mr Macaskill-Smith said.
Waikato DHB chairman Graeme Milne told the Times the Midlands pilot was "good news" and something that was desperately needed.
ED AVERAGE COST
Triage 1 - resuscitation required - $1760
Triage 2 - emergency - $920
Triage 3 - urgent - $580
Triage 4 - semi-urgent - $440
Triage 5 - non-urgent - $350
- Waikato Times