Do free clinics reduce unnecessary emergency department visits? The Virginian experience

Wenke Hwang, Kimberly Liao, Leah Griffin, Kristie Long Foley

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

20 Scopus citations


As part of the safety net, free clinics (FCs) increase access to preventive and primary care for the uninsured. This study compared a group of uninsured FC users and a group of uninsured non-FC users to explore the impact of FC enrollment on the pattern of ED visits, as characterized by (1) level of complexity of care received at the ED, and (2) avoidable vs. unavoidable as classified by an existing clinical algorithm. Emergency department visits by FC users were less likely to be low-level-of-care than visits by non-FC users (OR 0.89, 95% CI 0.84-0.93). Free clinic enrollment was not a statistically significant predictor of avoidable visits (p5.6465). We found that the group of individuals who had access to primary care at the local FCs were significantly less likely than the group of uninsured individuals who were not enrolled in a FC to use the ED for care with lower levels of clinical complexity. Thus, the cost of increasing the primary care workforce as the Medicaid population expands may be worth it in the long run. Further exploration into what characterizes an effective FC is needed.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1189-1204
Number of pages16
JournalJournal of Health Care for the Poor and Underserved
Issue number3
StatePublished - Aug 2012

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health


Dive into the research topics of 'Do free clinics reduce unnecessary emergency department visits? The Virginian experience'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this