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Study: Two-thirds of MN's ER visits over the course of a year 'potentially preventable'

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Two-thirds of emergency room visits in a recent year could have been prevented if patients received the right care at the right place at the right time.

That's according to the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH), which found nearly 1.3 million visits to the ER and admissions to the hospital in 2012 were potentially preventable, MDH announced Thursday.

These visits added up to nearly $2 billion, the first-of-its-kind-in-the-nation study found – that's nearly 5 percent of the $40 billion spent on health care that year,

MDH says some examples of potentially preventable visits to hospitals include: Going to the ER for a urinary tract infection that could have been treated by a primary care doctor; or being readmitted to a hospital because of poor follow-up care after being discharged.

Health officials say many of these hospital visits could have been handled elsewhere under the "right circumstances" – timely access to primary care, improved medication management and better coordinated health care, among other factors.

“Minnesota has one of the most efficient and cost-effective health care systems in the nation, but this study shows we still have room for improvement,” Minnesota Commissioner of Health Dr. Ed Ehlinger said in a news release.

Ehlinger noted the report's findings will help the Department of Health work with providers and community leaders to make sure patients receive the right care at the right time. This could ultimately help reduce health care costs, although more spending may be needed to ensure patients are getting the right care, officials note.

The report found just over 40 percent of potentially preventable visits were for managing chronic conditions such as asthma; 27 percent were for non-infectious acute illnesses, such as chest pain; and 17 percent were for infectious illnesses that could have been treated by a primary care doctor.

Ehlinger says the 2012 data will be used as a baseline to see if the state is improving. Health officials will analyze 2014 data to see if the federal Affordable Care Act's health insurance mandate had an impact on potentially preventable visits to the hospital, MPR News reports.

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