CDC Reports Rise in Emergency Room Visits, Decrease in Departments
Visits to hospital emergency rooms rose 20% in the past 10 years, while the number of emergency departments in the nation fell 15% in the same time period, according to a report released on Wednesday by the CDC, USA Today reports (Fackelmann, USA Today, 6/5). According to the study, there were 107.5 million visits to emergency rooms in 2001, up from 89.8 million visits in 1992, and emergency room departments fell nationwide to 3,872 by 2001, down from 4,530 in 1992 (Wahlberg, Atlanta Journal-Constitution, 6/5). The report attributes some of increase to the aging U.S. population, which will continue to play a role in increasing ER use, as baby boomers age and develop chronic medical problems, USA Today reports. People who lack health coverage or have "inadequate" coverage and use the emergency room because they are unable to receive treatment elsewhere also factored in the increase, the report says (USA Today, 6/5). Report author Linda McCaig, a CDC health scientist, said, "It seems that people may have more trouble scheduling appointments with a primary care provider in a timely fashion. They might find it more convenient to go to the emergency department where they can get same-day service" (Yee, AP/Las Vegas Sun, 6/4). Further, "adverse medical care," including allergic drug reactions or complications resulting from shorter hospital stays, resulted in about 1.4 million visits to emergency rooms in 2001, USA Today reports. The report also says that emergency room visits for nonemergency care, which make up 10% of the total ER visits, contributed to the rise (USA Today, 6/5).
A majority of the increase began in 1997 when managed care plans stopped mandating prior approval for ER visits and the federal government required all hospitals that receive Medicare funds to treat all people seeking care, the Journal-Constitution reports (Atlanta Journal-Constitution, 6/5). The report notes that emergency rooms closed because of financial losses, mergers or hospital closures (USA Today, 6/5). The increased demand combined with fewer emergency rooms means that patients have to wait longer for care and ambulances are often diverted to other hospitals, McCaig said. She added, "There are a lot of problems with emergency department care right now with the overcrowding and ambulance diversion and concern about quality of care. It's important to monitor" (AP/Las Vegas Sun, 6/4).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.