Hospital emergency rooms are being strained by an increase in nonemergency visits, a growing number of patients with serious mental illnesses and a lack of specialists willing to accept on-call duty, according to the Center for Studying Health System Change.
If not addressed, the problems will compromise access to hospital care and contribute to higher healthcare costs, the center said in an issue brief.
Specialists' reluctance to provide on-call services reflects fear of malpractice litigation, lack of reimbursement for uninsured patients and more opportunities in outpatient facilities and specialty hospitals.
The number of patients using ERs for nonemergency care rose steadily between 1997 and 2003, with the largest growth in the rate of nonemergency visits occurring among Medicare patients, the center said. Read the issue brief.