Even with EDs in short supply, visits increase

One in five U.S. adults headed to the emergency department at least once during 2011, according to an annual report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

In 2011, 20 percent of adults visited the emergency room at least once in the past year and 7 percent said they went two more times, reports Health, United States, 2012, the government's annual comprehensive compilation of health data from state and federal health agencies and the private sector.

This year's report includes a special section on emergency care that addresses such issues as which patients tend to rely on the ED for healthcare and why, the treatments they receive there, and the costs involved.

Although the percentage of Americans visiting the emergency department each year is stable, the total number of visits to EDs increased 34 percent between 1995 and 2010 (from 97 million to 130 million visits). At the same time, the supply of emergency departments has declined by about 11 percent to 3,700 EDs in 2010.

The results are problems such as crowding, delays in treatment, patient dissatisfaction and worse outcomes, according to MedPage Today

Other highlights from the report:

  • During 2001 through 2011, both children under age 18 and adults aged 18–64 with Medicaid coverage were more likely to have at least one emergency department visit in the past year, compared with the uninsured and those with private coverage.
  • In 2008–2010, falls were the most common reason for an injury-related visit to an emergency department
  • Between 2000 and 2010, 35 percent of emergency department visits included an x-ray, while the use of advanced imaging (CT or MRI) scans increased from 5 percent to 17 percent of emergency department visits.
  • In 2009–2010, 81 percent of emergency department visits were discharged for follow-up care as needed, 16 percent ended with the patient being admitted to the hospital, 2 percent ended with the patient leaving without completing the visit and less than 1 percent ended in the patient's death.
  • Possible reasons Medicaid patients may use the ER more than most: They may be sicker than the rest of the population and find it harder to find other sources of care, reports MedPage Today.

Meanwhile, a study published in yesterday's New England Journal of Medicine found more than 22,000 nondiscretionary ED visits during 2011 involved young adults who were newly insured under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act's dependent-coverage provision. The study estimates the provision extended private coverage of nondiscretionary ED visits by 3.1 percentage points, compared with similar visits by adults aged 26 to 31.

To learn more:
- download the annual CDC report
- read the Medpage Today article
- check out the NEJM study