Most visits to the emergency room are not for emergencies

October 1, 2002

Pharmaceutical Representative

Pharmaceutical Representative-10-01-2002,

The majority of visits to emergency departments in U.S. hospitals are for non-emergent cases that could be treated elsewhere.

The majority of visits to emergency departments in U.S. hospitals are for non-emergent cases that could be treated elsewhere, according to an analysis by Evanston, IL-based healthcare research firm Solucient.

Of the 106 million annual visits to the emergency department, 58% - nearly 62 million cases - are for treatment of patients who could be seen in other, less-acute care settings, such as fast-track units within an emergency department, free-standing urgent care facilities and physicians' private offices.

"By offering alternative settings for treatment of low-severity patients, hospitals can avoid having to divert patients to other hospitals when capacity is reached," said Ruth Colby, senior vice president of Solucient. "It's clear that hospitals need good measures of expected demand for urgent care to provide adequate community care."

The findings are based on an examination of more than one million commercial and Medicare emergency department claims nationwide. Findings from claims were supplemented using federal surveys for Medicaid and uninsured populations. The distinction between emergent and non-emergent visits was made by categorizing services provided during the visit into the two levels of acuity.

Age a factor in ER use

The age group of the patient was a big factor in determining whether a patient used the emergency room for non-acute care. Children under age 17 were more likely than any other age group to use the emergency department for non-emergent care. Approximately 75% of all pediatric emergency department patients could have been seen in less-acute settings, including fast-track units and urgent care facilities.

Non-emergent use of emergency rooms tends to decline steadily as patient age increases. In contrast to the high percentage for children under age 17, only 62% of young adult patients, 46% of older adults and 35% of senior patients used emergency departments for non-emergent services.

Because every community has a unique distribution of age groups, each hospital requires a different mix of emergent services versus non-emergent services. Colby commented: "It is important to identify the specific, local demand for such services to effectively plan for emergency department expansion or redevelopment." PR

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