Emergency departments (EDs) across the country saw a record number of patients in 2011, with more than 136 million people visiting, and experts only expect the demand to increase, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Current projections have ED visits around 140 million, with about a 2.9 percent increase in patients every year, according to the data, but many hospitals haven't expanded to cope with the growth.
"Given that our nation's population is aging, and emergency departments have a critical role as the front line of responding to disasters and infectious disease outbreaks in America, such as what we saw with Ebola, we need to prepare for increased numbers of patients," Michael Gerardi, M.D., president of the American College of Emergency Physicians, said in an announcement.
Therefore, he said, hospitals must get more resources to deal with the influx of patients, especially in states where Medicaid expansion drives up ED visits. These states saw a 5.6 percent increase in Medicaid ED visits compared to the same time last year, according to the data released by the Colorado Hospital Association. EDs in non-expansion states only saw a 1.8 percent increase.
Sixty percent of patients arrived after normal business hours, according to the CDC data, with 30 percent of patients arriving with injuries, the majority of them age 75 and older. About two-thirds of patients waited two hours or more for beds in 2011, and 75 percent of hospitals continued to board patients even when the EDs were overloaded.
Gerardi said the influx would only become more extreme with the implementation of the Affordable Care Act, with nearly 90 percent of responding hospitals reporting an expected increase over the next three years.