ED visits reach 136M despite efforts to reduce crowding

Despite various efforts to reduce emergency department (ED) crowding--posting wait times, diverting patients--visits to the ED jumped 10 percent in one year to a new high of more than 136 million visits in 2009, according to preliminary data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Ninety-two percent of ED patients were considered urgent and more than 85 percent were insured, according to an American College of Emergency Physicians (ACEP) press release.

In addition to a growing demand for healthcare services, emergency physicians credit the upsurge in visits to enhancements that enable EDs to treat patients faster, reports the San Francisco Chronicle. They also maintain that deterring patients from going to the ED for care won't cut back on healthcare costs.

"We're efficient. We take care of acute patients and that's what we do well," Dr. Paul Kivela, managing partner of Napa Valley Emergency Medical Group and ACEP board member, told the Chronicle.

Meanwhile, a new ACEP study examined why patients choose to go to the ED for minor complaints over their primary care provider (PCP). Many of the patients perceived their complaints to be urgent (33.4 percent) or were referred to the ED by their PCPs (33.4 percent). Others chose to visit the ED because they couldn't get a timely appointment with their PCPs (12.5 percent) or because the ED offered more services than their PCPs (11 percent).

Instead of looking to the ED to cut costs, healthcare consultant Walter Kopp suggests redirecting funds toward primary care. "If primary care had more resources, we could do a better job in providing primary care," he told the Chronicle.

For more information:
- here's the ACEP press release
- read the San Francisco Chronicle article
- check out the ACEP study