Emergency Room Visits Soar

Visits to U.S. emergency rooms jumped 26 percent in the past decade, officials announced today. The jump was most pronounced among older Americans, many who don't have insurance.

Meanwhile, the number of facilities able to handle emergencies dropped.

Visits to emergency departments, called EDs, rose from 90.3 million in 1993 to 114 million in 2003, according to a new study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The 26 percent increase compares to a 12.3 percent increase in the country's population.

Medicaid patients were four times more likely to seek treatment at an ED than those with private insurance.

Here's a bit of irony: 1.7 million of the visits in 2003 were for adverse effects of medical treatment.

Other findings in the report:

  • Average wait time was unchanged since 2000, at 46.5 minutes.
  • Injury, poisoning and the adverse effects of medical treatment accounted for over 35 percent of ED visits. Motor vehicle traffic accidents accounted for 41 percent of injury-related visits.
  • Overall, 16 million people were transported to EDs by ambulance in 2003, accounting for 14 percent of the visits.
  • The number of ED facilities decreased by 14 percent from 1993 to 2003

"Emergency departments are a safety net and often the place of first resort for health care for America's poor and uninsured," said the study's lead author Linda McCaig. "This annual study of the nation's emergency departments is part of a series of surveys of health care in the United States and provides current information for the development of policies and programs designed to meet America's health care needs."

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