WASHINGTON - One in five people visited the emergency department in 2007, according to a new data brief issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The report "Emergency Department Visitors and Visits: Who Used the Emergency Room in 2007?" is much less comprehensive than previous annual reports, and Dr. Angela Gardner, president of the American College of Emergency Physicians, hopes the CDC will make publicly available a full report for 2007, saying it will be critical to know exactly what is happening in the nation's emergency departments as health care reforms are implemented.
"There are a few data points in the brief that confirm what emergency physicians know from experience: Emergency visits remain at record high levels, and the rate of non-urgent visits is declining. Only 10 percent of emergency visits by people under age 65 were considered non-urgent. Furthermore, uninsured patients are no more likely to be triaged as non-urgent than patients with health insurance.
"It's important to note the report finds that having a usual source of medical care, such as a primary care provider, does not affect the number of times people under age 65 visit the emergency department. It also finds that people over age 65 with a usual source of care are actually more likely to seek emergency care. This is one reason why emergency physicians are saying emergency visits are going to increase, despite health care reforms that increase payments to primary care physicians.
"As the nation moves forward to implement the new health care legislation, it is critical that we know, for example, how many patients use the ER, how many are admitted to the hospital from the ER and the top reasons that people seek emergency care. This new format makes it difficult to compare reports from previous years.
"The CDC report does not give any insight into the trend seen in the news of multiple hospital closures, such as St. Vincent's in New York City. Emergency physicians fear this trend will continue, but we need to have that confirmed by government data.
"Emergency departments are a critical, life-saving community resource. As the nation embarks on a historic path of reforming the health care system, we need factual data to plan for the future."
ACEP is a national medical specialty society representing emergency medicine. ACEP is committed to advancing emergency care through continuing education, research and public education. Headquartered in Dallas, Texas, ACEP has 53 chapters representing each state, as well as Puerto Rico and the District of Columbia. A Government Services Chapter represents emergency physicians employed by military branches and other government agencies.
CONTACT: Laura Gore, +1-202-728-0610 ext. 3008, or Julie Lloyd, ext. 3010, both of the American College of Emergency Physicians