ER Usage Study Shows Interesting Results

Twenty percent of Americans visited a hospital emergency room in 2007, the most recent year for which the National Center for Health Statistics has data.  That includes approximately 7.4 percent of the uninsured who visited the ER multiple times, as did 5.1 percent of people with private insurance.  The most frequent ER visitors were Medicaid patients, with 15.3 percent reporting two or more visits in 2007.  A total of 116.8 million ER visits were made that year.

One third of adults in fair or poor health visited the ER at least once during the year and are the patients most likely to use that facility.  Patients over 65 reported more ER visits and described it as their customary source of healthcare.  Approximately 25 percent of individuals aged 75 and older visited the ER at least once in 2007.

The big surprise?  Contrary to conventional wisdom, the uninsured were not more likely to make non-emergency visits to the ER than other groups.  Approximately 10 percent fall into the non-emergency category whether the patient had private insurance, Medicaid coverage or no insurance.  Determining who visits the ER, the frequency and for what reasons requires examining complicated interactions among multiple factors – socioeconomic level, overall health, age, health insurance, access to healthcare and others.

“Our job is to provide the best numbers to inform policy and practice,” said Amy B. Bernstein of the National Center for Health Statistics.  “If people are concerned about the use of emergency rooms and how to make their use more efficient or effective, they should have accurate information about who is actually using them – and not who they think is using them.”

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