Overestimation of health urgency as a cause for emergency services inappropriate use: Insights from an exploratory economics experiment in Portugal
Botelho, A.; Dias, I.C.; Fernandes, T.ân.; Pinto, L.íg.M.C.; Teixeira, J.; Valente, M.; Veiga, P.
Health and Social Care in the Community 27(4): 1031-1041
Increasing visits to emergency departments add strain to public healthcare systems. The misperception of symptoms' severity can partly explain inappropriate use of hospitals' emergency departments by non-urgent patients. This paper focuses on the misperception of symptoms' severity as a cause for the inappropriate use of emergency departments. It explores the role that informing potential patients of the correct severity level can play in correcting this inefficiency. We implement in an incentivised manner an exploratory economic experiment to elicit the degree of severity of five sets of symptoms, corresponding to frequent causes of emergency department visits. The study was setup in Braga, Northern Portugal, recruiting voluntary participants through civic local organisations. We ask participants to indicate the more suitable health service, before and after revealing the true degree of severity. Results show that there is an overestimation of the degree of severity of some clinical profiles, and when confronted with the real severity, in only half of the cases are choices changed to other health services. Although exploratory, this study provides insights into the potential role of health education policies concerning symptoms' severity but it also highlights the limits of such policies. Furthermore, the use of economic experiments can provide meaningful insights for the design of policies addressing demand-side healthcare inefficiencies.