Excerpts from rrstar.com:

A pilot program that teamed the Rockford Fire Department with SwedishAmerican Hospital to reduce the number of times “superusers” ride an ambulance to the emergency room was successful this year, b how to fund an expansion of the program remains unclear.

Eight of SwedishAmerican’s estimated 380 patients who use the emergency department more than 10 times per year and often visit dozens of times were chosen to participate. Nurses and fire personnel conducted health and safety check home visits during the first half of the year, significantly cutting the number of times the patients wound up in the ER, said Dr. Kathleen Kelly, the chief clinical integration officer for SwedishAmerican.

Called the Mobile Integrated Healthcare pilot program, it involved just a fraction of the number of patients who are using, and in some cases abusing, ambulance services in Rockford. The goal was to reduce the number of avoidable ER visits and ambulance rides while improving the health of the eight participants.

“After our intervention where our team made proactive home visits to our patients to try to understand what the triggers were for coming to the emergency department, they were able to reduce the (emergency department) and ambulance transfers by a significant amount,” Kelly said.

Officials said an expansion of the program, which could involve funding and cooperation from all three major health systems in the region, would be effective. And the results match what has been seen in other places across the country that have implemented mobile health care programs.

The eight patients chosen for the pilot program visited the SwedishAmerican Hospital emergency room a combined 65 times the first six months of 2014. With assistance from home visits, the number of their ER trips dropped to 30 in the same time period this year, a 54 percent reduction.  In addition, they took 30 ambulance rides in the first half of 2015, a 38 percent reduction from the 48 rides they took in the first half of 2014.

All have complex medical conditions requiring treatment with medications. But much of the time, a visit to the primary care physician would be a better use of resources and provide improved health results, Kelly said.

They are often living in poverty or have low incomes and might not have access to resources or transportation. Just providing the patients with a phone number to reach nurses who could answer their questions prevented many calls to 911, Kelly said.