The Maryland Health Care Commission has found that a third of all Maryland's emergency room visits are for non-emergency conditions that could be treated in another setting. Over a one-year period, 2.3 million patients visited Maryland ERs. "Of those visits...18 percent were for conditions that weren't emergencies at all, and 17 percent required rapid treatment but could have been dealt with in primary care doctors' offices." State legislatures are concerned by this over-use because non-emergency patients turning to the emergency department for care causes ER overcrowding and drives up healthcare costs.
The less-than-ideal situation in emergency departments is the result of a number of factors: there are fewer people with insurance due to high premium costs, a greater number of immigrants, homeless and indigent patients are using the ER, and the aging baby boomer population requires more care. Additionally, when patients with insurance can't see a primary care physician on the weekends, they often end up in the ER. The Commission states that while solving these problems is complex, relieving ER pressure could be achieved by providing urgent care in an alternative setting, greater access to primary care doctors and increasing co-payments to discourage ER use.
For more on this issue:
- read this Baltimore Sun article