6% of patients account for $148M of ED spending in Alaska

Approximately 6,600 patients (6 percent) in Alaska accounted for $148 million in the state's emergency department spending in 2016, according to a report from the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services Division of Public Health.

The report refers to this group, which consists of patients who visited the ED five or more times in a year, as "super-utilizers." Among all patients, 1,216 visited 10 or more times each, and 6,651 visited five or more times.

Hospitals charged approximately $622 million for 204,880 visits in 2016, with the vast majority of those charges going to less than 10 percent of users.

The state only has data for 2015 and 2016, as 2015 was the first mandatory year for reporting, so it's hard to track long-term trends, DHSS spokesman Clinton Bennett told the Peninsula Clarion.

The most frequent diagnoses for the top 1 percent of ED patients were alcohol-related disorders, abdominal and pelvic pain, throat and chest pain, back pain, unclassified pain, joint disorders, nausea and vomiting, and anxiety disorders, according to the report.

Anchorage, Alaska, is the most frequent location for super-utilizers and general emergency visits, which correlated to Anchorage having the largest population and largest hospitals in the state. However, a data error may have resulted in a slight undercounting, according to the report.

To reduce frequent ED utilization and to help track prescriptions amid Alaska's opioid crisis, the Alaska State Hospital and Nursing Home Association began a collaborative project this year with the Alaska chapter of the American College of Emergency Physicians. 

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