Number of Patients Treated in State Emergency Rooms Increased 27% from 1990 to 1999, UCSF Study Finds
State emergency rooms have seen a 27% rise in the number of patients that they have treated from 1990 to 1999, according to a study published yesterday in the April issue of the Annals of Emergency Medicine. The Los Angeles Times reports that in the study, researchers at the University of California-San Francisco analyzed data from the California Office of Statewide Health Planning and Development, which monitors hospitals and health service facilities in the state (Abdur-Rahman, Los Angeles Times, 3/29). The study found that while the number of patients who visited state emergency rooms went up, the number of state emergency departments dropped from 407 to 357 -- a 12% decrease -- over the same period (Liddane/Luna, Orange County Register, 3/29). In addition, the study found that the number of critically ill patients who visited state emergency rooms increased 59% from 1990 to 1999. Urgent visits to state emergency rooms increased 36% from 1990 to 1999, while non-urgent visits (those which require care in two to 24 hours) decreased 8% over the same period, the study found (San Francisco Chronicle, 3/29). The study also found that the ratio of emergency department beds increased from 14.5 to 15.3 per 100,000 state residents from 1990 to 1999, but UCSF professor Dr. Susan Lambe, lead author of the study, said, "From a practical standpoint, [the increase in the number of beds] certainly doesn't do much" (Los Angeles Times, 3/29).
The study "takes issue with a common perception" that overcrowding in state emergency rooms results from non-urgent patients, the AP/Contra Costa Times reports. Lambe said, "Urgent patients accounted for the largest group of visits in 1999. That is contrary to the claim that non-urgent patients clog the system" (Sherman, AP/Contra Costa Times, 3/29).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.