About 28% of visits to treat acute-care problems such as stomach or chest pains, fever, cough, or a flare-up of a chronic condition occur in hospital emergency departments, according to a study published in the September edition of the journal Health Affairs. Meanwhile, according to the study, fewer than half—about 42%—of visits for acute care are made to a primary-care physician.
ER often first choice for non-emergency care
Researchers analyzed 354 million annual visits for acute care from 2001 to 2004 using data from three federal surveys on ambulatory-care delivery from the National Center for Health Statistics. Of those, 28% were handled by hospital emergency departments; 22% by general/family practitioners; 20% by nonprimary care, office-based subspecialists; 13% by general pediatricians; 10% by general internists; and 7% by hospital outpatient departments.
The study also found that uninsured patients received more than half of their acute care in emergency departments, and two-thirds of acute-care visits to emergency departments took place on weekends or on a weekday after office hours. The most frequent problems treated were stomach and chest pain.
A “promising feature” of the new health reform law is the addition of 15,000 new providers to federally qualified community health centers, which were not identified in ambulatory-care surveys until 2006, the study said. “These centers tend to serve the uninsured and those in Medicare, Medicaid, and CHIP,” the study said. “The expansion of the centers has the potential to reduce low-acuity emergency department visits, given the centers' explicit mission to manage the care of people with acute medical problems.”
Send us a letter
Have an opinion about this story? Click here to submit a Letter to the Editor, and we may publish it in print.