NY Hospital Study: Over 40% of ER Visits Potentially Avoidable

Mobile Health Solution

Many Emergency Room Visits Aren’t Emergencies at All

Catherine McCarty, 28, went to the nearest emergency room to treat a severely sprained ankle. Doctors put her foot in a cast, gave her crutches and told her to keep the weight off of the injured leg.

Then they referred her to a podiatrist for treatment.

A 2009 study reviewed emergency room visits and found 40% of the patients wanting immediate medical care didn’t need emergency care.  Those patient complaints included back problems and excessive alcohol consumption. Many of the patients covered by the survey did need care within twelve hours, but that treatment could have been provided in a primary care setting — not a hospital emergency room.

Avoidable hospital emergency room visits aren’t out of the ordinary. Nationwide, patients visit the ER for minor medical conditions such as sore throats and earaches when they should have been seen in a primary care setting.

The overcrowding of ERs is presenting a public health crisis. Overcrowding slows an ER’s ability to provide quality care to patients who need it. Multiple factors contribute to the overcrowding, but patients with minor medical problems are the largest factor according to the study.

Costs Rise

The report also estimated that millions in health care costs in New York would be saved annually if just a tiny percentage of patients who go to the ER went to their doctor’s office instead. A patient going to the ER for non-emergency care was identified in a PriceWaterhouse Health Research report. According to the PWH study, patients who visited the ER without a legitimate emergency waste $14 billion annually.

Forty-four Percent Avoidable in New York

25% of ER visits to New York emergency rooms were for non-emergencies. Another 19% were for medical conditions which required care within twelve- house but could have been treated in a physician’s office.

The figures match the results seen in other states. The Massachusetts Division of Health Care Finance, for example, found that 40% of outpatient ER visits were for concerns that were non-emergency or could have been treated in a doctor’s office.

Don’t Expect a Cure in the ER

Some cases can be resolved before leaving the ER. Someone with an infection gets antibiotics. A gash gets stitches, and a broken arm finds a cast. There’s a good chance a person will leave the ER just as dazed about their condition as when they first arrived.

Over 60-percent of ER patients are referred to an outside doctor, or clinic, for further treatment. Remember Catherine McCarthy?