Washington, DC A growing portion of the population is visiting emergency departments, and there has been a continuous rise in the proportion of heavy emergency departments users (defined as three or more visits a year) between 1996 and 2005. A study published online today in the Annals of Emergency Medicine reports that the percentage of people using the emergency department increased nearly 9 percent during that period ( The Changing Profile of Patients Who Used Emergency Department Services in the U.S.: 1996-2005 ).
Growing numbers of elderly and chronically ill people are visiting the emergency department, and many of them are visiting multiple times in a year, said lead study author K. Tom Xu, PhD, of the Department of Family and Community Medicine at Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center in Lubbock, Texas. Furthermore, patients who visit the ER three or more times a year increased 28 percent in just three years, from 1999 to 2002. We saw increases among blacks, the elderly, patients with two or more types of health insurance and patients in poor health. There was a decrease in visits for the uninsured.
Researchers found the number of non-institutionalized people who visited the emergency department increased from 34.2 million to 40.8 million, representing an increase from 12.7 percent to 13.8 percent of the U.S. population. The largest increase occurred between 1999 and 2001. Between 1999 and 2002, the proportion of people who visited the emergency department three or more times increased from 5.9 percent of the population to 7.5 percent of the population.
Our study confirms that the poor and the uninsured are not the main contributing factors to emergency department crowding in recent years, said Dr. Xu. The burden on emergency departments of caring for elderly patients has increased a lot in the last decade. Our aging population will create additional challenges in the training of future emergency physicians and in health care reform overall.
Annals of Emergency Medicineis the peer-reviewed scientific journal for the American College of Emergency Physicians, a national medical society with more than 28,000 members. 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. For more information visit www.acep.org.