Trend: EDs see more repeat users, elderly

Much of the discussion around health reform has touched on the problem of emergency department overuse and the high costs of this pattern to the system overall. However, the following study suggests that ED usage patterns are on their own track, one that might not be amenable to shorter-term incentives contained in health reform measures.

All told, according the study, "The Changing Profile of Patients Who Used Emergency Department Services in the U.S.: 1996-2005," patients using the ED grew almost 9 percent during the study period. The number of non-institutionalized people visiting the ED climbed from 34.2 million to 40.8 million, or 13.8 percent of the U.S. population, during the period addressed by the study.

Who's responsible for the increase? For one thing, in recent times EDs have seen a growing number of geriatric patients, something that is all but inevitable as the Baby Boomers keep aging and getting sicker. Then there's a growing number of patients who are "frequent fliers," visiting the ED three or more times per year.

That group, which cuts across varied demographics, increased 28 percent in only three years, said researchers, whose work was published in the Annals of Emergency Medicine. There was actually a decrease in visits from the uninsured, which runs against current conventional wisdom that uninsured patients hit the ED more than most other groups.

To learn more about this trend:
- read th is HealthLeaders Media piece

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