Office “Phone First” Systems Reduce Emergency Department/Urgent Care Utilization by Medicaid-Enrolled Children

Published:December 10, 2021DOI:



      Emergency department and urgent care (ED/UC) visits for common conditions can be more expensive with less continuity than office care provided by primary care physicians.


      We used quality-improvement methods to enhance telephone triage for pediatric patients by adding additional “Phone First” services including: 1) enhanced office-hours telephone triage and advice with available same-day appointments, 2) follow-up calls to parents of children self-referred to an ED/UC, and 3) parent education to telephone the office for advice prior to seeking acute care. We hypothesized that enhanced office services would reduce ED/UC utilization and cost. We compared changes in ED/UC encounter rates between intervention and regional practices for 4 years (2014–2017) using general linear models, and evaluated balancing measures (after-hour phone calls, acute care phone calls, acute care visits, well child visits) for Medicaid-enrolled and commercially-insured children.


      The study practices dramatically increased office-hours acute care phone triage and advice which correlated with 23.8% to 80.5% (P < 0.001) reductions in ED/UC rates for Medicaid-enrolled children. Office acute care visits decreased modestly. ED/UC visits did not decrease for children in the comparison region. In phone surveys, 94% of parents indicated satisfaction with the ED/UC follow-up call. The decrease in ED/UC visits resulted in an estimated annual cost of care savings for Medicaid-enrolled children in 2017 of $12.61 per member per month which projected to $169 million cost of care savings in Colorado and $6.8 billion in the United States.


      “Phone First” services in pediatric practices during office-hours reduced ED/UC encounters and cost of care for Medicaid-enrolled children.


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