Study: Only 3.3 percent of ER visits are 'avoidable'

Many of the common conditions of avoidable emergency department visits involved mental health and dental problems

By EMS1 Staff

WASHINGTON — A recent study found that only 3.3 percent of all visits to emergency rooms are classified as “avoidable.”

"We found that many of the common conditions of 'avoidable' emergency department visits involved mental health and dental problems, which ERs are generally ill-equipped to treat," the study's lead author Renee Hsia, MD, MSc, with the Department of Emergency Medicine at the University of California, San Francisco said. "This suggests a lack of access to health care rather than intentional inappropriate use is driving many of these 'avoidable' visits. These patients come to the ER because they need help and literally have no place else to go."

The study looked at data from the National Hospital Ambulatory Medical Care Survey from 2005 to 2011 and examined “avoidable” ER visits, or visits where patients did not require any diagnostic or screening services, procedures, or medications and were discharged home. The findings showed that patients whose visits were deemed “avoidable” were most commonly discharged with alcohol, mood or dental conditions.

The findings also showed that the majority of patients with these conditions still required some form of treatment.

"Despite a relentless campaign by the insurance industry to mislead policymakers and the public into believing that many ER visits are avoidable, the facts say otherwise," American College of Emergency President Becky Parker said. "Most patients who are in the emergency department belong there and insurers should cover those visits. The myths about 'unnecessary' ER visits are just that – myths."

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