ER visits for dizziness rack up costs, lack value

Visits for dizziness or vertigo rack up more than $4 billion annually in emergency department costs, much of which goes to imaging studies of questionable value, according to a 15-year review published in the Academic Emergency Medicine.

To estimate the annual national costs associated with ED visits for dizziness, study authors coupled public-use ED visit data from 1995 to 2009 with cost data from the Medical Expenditure Panel Survey from 2003 to 2008. They found the estimated number of 2011 ED visits for dizziness or vertigo was 3.9 million and resulted in a mean per-ED-dizziness cost of $1,004, with total costs for the year reaching $3.9 billion.

Total costs for ED visits related to vertigo or dizziness now exceed $4 billion per year--at four percent of all ED costs.

The study concludes, "Rising costs over time appear to reflect the rising prevalence of ED visits for dizziness and increased rates of imaging use. Future economic studies should focus on the specific breakdown of total costs, emphasizing areas of high cost and use that might be safely reduced."

Recent findings show coordinated care can help reduce the prevalent problem of unnecessary ED visits--in Oregon, coordinated care organizations (CCO) are encouraging their patients to turn to regular doctors for care instead of going to the ED. According to the website, the state is targeting "frequent flyers" who visit hospital ERs at least 10 times a year, and in some cases, as often as once a week.

In May, the American Hospital Association found Medicare patients are utilizing services in EDs at higher rates than ever before, driving up costs. And a recent Truven Analytics study noted a large number of ED visits are unnecessary. More than 70 percent of emergency department visits from patients with employer-sponsored insurance coverage are for nonemergency conditions or conditions preventable through outpatient care, FierceHealthcare reported this spring.

To learn more:
- read the study in Academic Emergency Medicine