A new report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention once again debunks the myth that emergency departments are crowded with non-urgent patients, a finding noted by the American College of Emergency Physicians (ACEP).
The percentage of non-urgent patients dropped to only 7.9 percent in 2007 [from 12.1 percent in 2006]. The report also makes the excellent point that non-urgent does not imply unnecessary. As ACEP has said repeatedly, our patients are in the ER because that’s where they need to be.
There were approximately 222 visits to U.S. emergency departments every minute in 2007 () and the number of visits increased by 23 percent between 1997 and 2007, according to the report.
Preliminary data for 2008 indicate that emergency visits will increase to a record high of more than 123 million (http://bit.ly/ak6oRx).
Babies under 12 months old had the highest visit rate at 88.5 visits per 100 infants. The second highest visit rate was by adults age 75 and older, with 62 visits per 100 people.
Approximately one-quarter of all visits were by patients insured by either Medicaid or the State Children’s Health Insurance Program. The uninsured represented about 15 percent of all visits.
The report, “National Hospital Ambulatory Medical Care Survey: 2007 Emergency Department Summary” offers far more detail than the data brief released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in May. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, of which the CDC is a part, has indicated that this is the last fully detailed report of its kind to be issued about emergency department visits.
I am urging the CDC to reconsider:
“It is essential to know what is happening in our emergency departments as we implement health care reform. This report is rich in data about who our patients are, how old they are and why they are seeking care in the ER. From a planning perspective, this information is invaluable. It would be a mistake for the CDC to discontinue tracking what is happening on the front lines of healthcare, the nation’s emergency departments.”
The report also notes that only 0.1 percent of patients die in the emergency department.
The report says the main issue contributing to overcrowding has been delays in moving the sickest patients to inpatient beds. Admitted patients have often been boarded in the emergency departments or hospital hallways for hours to days, resulting in overcrowding and diversion of incoming ambulances to other hospitals.