Most patients don't visit nearest ER

Fewer than half of emergency department (ED) visits are to the patient's local emergency room, according to a new data brief from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS).

After analyzing data on ED visits between 2009 and 2010, Amy M. Brown of the NCHS and colleagues found the average visit involved an ED that was located 6.8 miles from the patient's home even though the nearest ED was on average only 3.9 miles from his or her home.

Overall, only 43.8 percent of visits were to the ED closest to the patient's home.

Researchers also looked at emergency visits withiin metropolitan statistical areas, which are regions that contain a core urban area with a population of 50,000 or more. Visits inside these areas were less likely than those outside to be to a different ED than the one closest to the patient's home, according to Brown and her team. 

They also found that visits that took place at EDs further from patients' homes occurred more often for older patients, at larger hospitals, and in EDs with longer waiting times within metropolitan statistical areas.

Further study is needed to understand the determinants behind these statistics, Brown and her team wrote, particularly if demand for emergency care continues to increase, as it has since the implementation of the Affordable Care Act.

To learn more:
- here's the data brief (.pdf)