100 million ED visits could be handled elsewhere

An estimated 17 to 27 percent of all emergency department visits for non-emergency care--or, about 104 million visits--could have occurred elsewhere, according to an article recently published in Health Affairs. Such a change could result in savings of roughly $4.4 billion each year.

The more conservative estimate represents the share of all ED visits that could take place during the limited hours when retail clinics and urgent care centers are open. The larger estimates equals the total share of ED visits that could be managed at the same sites.

The main conditions that could be treated at alternative sites are minor acute illness, strains and fractures.

For the study, researchers compared the share of specific diagnoses treated at retail clinics, urgent care centers and emergency departments. Among the findings, 61 percent of retail clinic visits were for upper respiratory infections compared with 33 percent of urgent care center visits and 10 percent of ED visits. Strains and fractures were seen slightly more often at urgent care centers than EDs (22 percent of visits vs. 19 percent).

The analysis was based on the 2006 National Hospital Ambulatory Medicare Care Survey, a nationally representative survey.

Diverting the patients who were headed to EDs to urgent care sites or retail clinics could cut the time spent waiting to see a clinician, the authors write. Diversion could also lead to savings of $279 to $460 for retail clinic visits and $228 to $414 for urgent care center visits, according to earlier research.

To learn more:
- here's the Health Affairs article abstract

Related Article:
Wait times at emergency departments continue to increase nationwide
More hospitals embrace technology to manage ER wait times
Hospitals take on more acute care patients