In Defense of Emergency Room Care

  •  While the past decade has seen dramatic increases in the use of emergency care and ER crowding, ER care is but a tiny portion of the U.S. health care pie: less than 3 percent. 
  • The claim that unnecessary visits are clogging the emergency care system is untrue: Just 12 percent of ER visits are not urgent
  • The marginal cost of treating less acute patients in the ER is lower than paying off-hours primary care doctors. 
  • Despite the belief that the uninsured and undocumented flood ERs, most emergency room patients are insured U.S. citizens. 
  • ER abuse (such as the tale of nine patients in Texas, eight of them drug users, who were responsible for a whopping 2,700 ER visits in six years) is the exception, not the rule.
  • Most “frequent flyers”—a pejorative term used to describe patients who stop by ERs a lot—tend to be the very sick, those with severe asthma, heart failure, or diabetes.

 Full article on unnecessary ER visits.

Comments (8)

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  1. Joe S. says:

    Interesting. Total rejection of conventional wisdom.

  2. Tom H. says:

    No one really knows what anything costs in a hospital. There is enormous flexibility in how overhead is allocated.

  3. Stephen C. says:

    I agree with Tom. Accounted for correctly, emergency room care may not be as expensive as everyone thinks.

  4. Linda Gorman says:

    Now they tell us? Just goes to show how ObamaCare has changed things. Now that it has passed, relying on the ER for care is perfectly ok.

    Just last week, overuse of expensive ERs was one of the reasons that ObamaCare should be supported…

  5. Bart Ingles says:

    If hospitals could treat non-emergency patients more cheaply in an urgent care clinic, there would be an urgent care clinic next to every emergency room.

  6. Ken says:

    I think it matters a lot where the emergency room is located. In a high income area, where most people are insured and can pay their medical bills in any event, the ER may be a profitable entity.

    In a low income area, where most people are uninsured and can’t pay their medical bills,it probably cannot be profitable.

  7. Linda Gorman says:

    Many hospitals in low income areas operate federally qualified Health Clinics. Federal law requires that Medicaid and Medicare pay “reasonable costs” for any patient treated in them. Routine complaints by the low income can be referred from the ER to the clinic and the hospital gets its costs, whatever they are, covered.

  8. Jill says:

    I am an ED nurse, and maybe these facts were true in 2010, but not in 2013. More than 1/2 of our cases are nonemergent, meaning it could wait a day or 2 to be seen in a primary care DR office. Also, MANY of our frequent flyers are psych patients, drug seekers, or individuals with MINOR illness who use the ED as a PCP office. Relying on the ED for care that is not emergent, or at least potentially serious/urgent, IS NOT OK. I work in a very busy ED that serves a large area, and many patients with life-threatening or serious conditions rely on our care. However, overuse of the ED for colds, sore throats, chronic pain, med refills, and other issues that should be treated in a PCP/Express Care setting are clogging the system and draining resources that are desperately needed elsewhere.