Report: ED visits climb 36 percent over decade

A new report from the CDC's National Center for Health Statistics concludes that there were 119 million emergency room visits in 2006, up 36 percent over the last 10 years. (During the same period, the number of emergency departments fell from 4,019 to 3,833, once again demonstrating that where healthcare is concerned, supply and demand just don't work the way they do in other industries.)

The report, "National Hospital Ambulatory Medical Care Survey: 2006 Emergency Department Summary," notes that while many observers--including those within the healthcare business--assume that the growth in ED visits is coming from a growth in visits by the uninsured, but that's not how it is. In fact, the data suggests that the uninsured accounted for between 17 percent and 18 percent of ED traffic both in 1996 and 2006. Nor did population growth account for the higher volume. Actually, the rate of ED visits per 100 people rose from 34.2 to 40.5 between those years, researchers concluded.

So why is the volume of ED patients growing so rapidly? Well, it may be due, in part, to a growth in ED visits from the insured. A recent study in the Annals of Emergency Medicine concluded that a lack of access to prompt care at doctors' offices was playing a big role in this trend. In fact, in 2005 about one-fifth of the U.S. population had made one or more ED visits within the past 12 months, with infants, persons 75 years and older, Medicaid beneficiaries and African-Americans having higher utilization rates.

To learn more about this these trends:
- read this Wall Street Journal blog item

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