Visits to emergency departments increased by a record-breaking 10% in 2009, preliminary studies from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) show. The data, released last week, says that there was an estimated 136 million ED visits in 2009, making the annual visit rate 45.1 ED visits per 100 persons.
The people who visited EDs weren’t crying wolf either; only 8 percent of those who came to the EDs in 2009 were deemed as “non-urgent.”
So why the increase? Some blame an aging population; others find new health care legislation at fault. An abstract from The Annals of Emergency Medicine explains that the increase may be due to overwhelmed Primary Care Physicians (PCP) deferring their patients to EDs. Another abstract in the same publication offers no answers but states that most people visiting EDs either perceive their problems to be urgent, or have been referred to the ED by a PCP.
According to the Los Angeles Times, the economy plays a big role. EDs are often the only recourse for the uninsured and jobless, as EDs under law cannot refuse treatment to those in need.
Wayne Guerra, MD and CMO of iTriage, agrees: “Emergency departments are still the safety net for healthcare in the United States and many Americans who have lost their job and can no longer afford health insurance are forced to use emergency departments for all their care.”
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