Study Shows That a Record Number of Americans Are Visiting ERs

In spite of an increasing number of patients, wait time is improving.

CDC study shows ER visits are up.

According to the most recent report published by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), 145.6 million people went to ERs in 2016. This marks an increase of more than 9 million who visited their local hospital emergency departments in 2015, a record number according to the CDC. Roughly 4 percent of those patients were there for non-emergency medical reasons.

According to the president of the American College of Emergency Physicians, Vidor Friedman, MD, FACEP, emergency care is essential to many patients.

“Emergency physicians are uniquely qualified to provide essential care that patients can’t get anywhere else. Nearly two-thirds of visits occur after business hours when other doctors’ offices are closed. Millions of patients rely on emergency physicians for rapid diagnosis and treatment of acute illness, while emergency departments are increasingly viewed as a hub for care and care transitions,” Friedman said.

The report highlighted senior citizens and children make up the majority of people who are seen in the ER. Patients who are under 15 years of age accounted for 18.8 percent of the emergency visits. Senior citizens 65 and older made up 15.9 percent of emergency care visits.

Most patients seek emergency room care due to illness, rather than injury. Twenty-nine percent of visits were due to injuries and the remainder of the ER visits were due to illness.

Stomach and chest pain were the most common reasons patients went to ERs, accounting for 13.8 percent of the visits. Falls and motor vehicle accidents were the most common causes of accidents that landed patients in an emergency room, accounting for just over 31% of accidental injuries in the ER.

The report uncovered many other interesting facts.

Sixty-nine percent of hospital admissions are routed from emergency departments. The most common cause of hospital admission from the emergency department was heart disease. The report also noted that the average hospital stay resulting from an emergency room visit was 4.5 days.

The majority of emergency care was given outside of normal business hours, before 8 a.m. and after 5 p.m. There was no noticeable change in the number of ER visits during normal hours.

Medicaid or CHIP patients (37.7 percent) accounted for the majority of patients in the ER, followed by privately-insured (31.8 percent) and Medicare patients (21.6 percent). Only 8.4 percent of emergency room visits were by a patient who had no insurance.

In spite of the increase in ER patients, the American College of Emergency Physicians says wait times have improved. Most patients are seen in under one hour and one-third wait less than 15 minutes.

Friedman says emergency care is becoming more complex.

“Some of the larger trends that will impact emergency department planning and resource discussions include the rising number of elderly patients, preventing and treating opioid abuse, and the role of the emergency department in treating and managing patients with mental illness.”

Mental disorders accounted for more than 5.5 million ER visits in 2016. Of those, 2.1 million were admitted to the hospital.


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