Emergency Department Visits Up Sharply From 1996 to 2006, CDC Says
The number of emergency department visits in the U.S. increased by 36% to 119 million in 2006 from 90 million in 1996, according to a CDC report on hospital use released on Wednesday, the AP/Miami Herald reports (Stobbe, AP/Miami Herald, 8/6). At the same time, the number of EDs nationwide declined from about 4,000 to about 3,800, contributing to an increase in ED treatment wait times (Bavley, Kansas City Star, 8/6).
The findings are based on a national survey of 362 hospital EDs (AP/Miami Herald, 8/6).
According to the report, average ED wait time increased to about 56 minutes in 2006, compared with 38 minutes in 1997 (Fahy, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 8/7).
However, the increasing ED wait time is misleading because urban EDs with waits longer than an hour boost the average, according to Catharine Burt of the National Center for Health Statistics at CDC (Hellmich, USA Today, 8/7).
The report's lead author, Stephen Pitts of CDC, said that half of ED users had wait times of 31 minutes or less (AP/Miami Herald, 8/6).
Billy Mallon, president of the California chapter of the American College of Emergency Physicians, said that California has the lowest percentage of EDs per capita, at 6.12 per one million residents.
Several factors contribute to overcrowding in the nation's EDs.
Pitts said that it is getting more difficult for U.S. residents to schedule primary care appointments, which contributes to the rise in ED use. He said this trend applies to Medicare and Medicaid beneficiaries in particular (Colliver, San Francisco Chronicle, 8/7).
The report found that 82 of every 100 Medicaid beneficiaries used ED care in 2006, compared to 21 of every 100 people with private insurance (Reichard, CQ HealthBeat, 8/6).
Pitts said a limited number of inpatient beds also is contributing to ED overcrowding as patients wait in the ED to be admitted (AP/Miami Herald, 8/6). As hospitals have reduced bed capacity, the "major solution over the past 10 years has been to allow these patients to sit in the hallways in the ER," Pitts said.
More than half of hospital admissions in 2006 were through EDs, a 38% increase since 1996, the report found.
According to the report, although the number of uninsured U.S. residents increased by more than 5 million since 1996 to about 47 million, the growing uninsured population did not account for higher ED use.
The report also found that the overall growth in population did not account for the trend (San Francisco Chronicle, 8/7). According to the report, about 40% of ED patients had private insurance; about 25% received health coverage through state programs for children; about 17% were Medicare beneficiaries; and about 17% were uninsured (AP/Miami Herald, 8/6).
The report also found that:
- ED use overall increased by 18%;
- About 13% of ED visits led to a hospital admission;
- Infants had the highest use of EDs of any age group;
- People older than 75 were the second-highest users of ED care (San Francisco Chronicle, 8/7); and
- ED or hospital outpatient department visits accounted for 38% of care used by blacks, compared with 17% for whites (CQ HealthBeat, 8/6).
Hospital visits increased by 26% to 1.1 billion visits in 2006 compared to a decade earlier, despite just an 11% growth in population, according to USA Today (USA Today, 8/7).
Half of physician visits were by people with at least one chronic condition (CQ HealthBeat, 8/6). The report found that high blood pressure was the most common chronic condition, followed by arthritis, high cholesterol, diabetes and depression (USA Today, 8/7).
The number of visits to outpatient departments by adults with chronic high blood pressure increased by 51% from 1996 to 2006, and visits by adults with diabetes increased by 43% (CQ HealthBeat, 8/6).
The findings show evidence that "health burdens related to the nation's growing weight problem are taking a toll," according to the Star (Kansas City Star, 8/6).
The report also found that:
- People on average see a physician four times per year;
- Infants visit a physician an average of 9.4 times annually, followed by people older than 65 at 7.4 visits per year;
- Children ages five to 14 see physicians the fewest times annually at 2.3 visits on average (Graham, "Triage," Chicago Tribune, 8/6);
- In seven of every 10 hospital visits, at least one drug was prescribed, continued or administered, with a total of 2.6 billion doses used overall (CQ HealthBeat, 8/6);
- Painkillers were used most, followed by cholesterol drugs, antidepressants, sedatives and hypnotics, and diabetes drugs ("Triage," Chicago Tribune, 8/6); and
- Physicians ordered imaging services in 44% of all visits (CQ HealthBeat, 8/6).
The report is available online (.pdf).
NBC's "Nightly News" on Wednesday reported on how EDs have become a source of primary care for an increasing number of U.S. residents. The segment includes comments from Ricardo Martinez of ACEP and Mark Spektor of Maimonides Medical Center (Bazell, "Nightly News," NBC, 8/6).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.