A new report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) paints a startling portrait of how frequently hospital emergency departments (EDs) are being utilized by Americans. According to the CDC, one out of five US adults visited an ED in 2011, with seven percent of the population frequenting an ED more than twice during that same timeframe. Although the percent of Americans visiting the ED is stable, there has been a 34 percent increase in ED visits over a fifteen-year period, with approximately 130 million visits annually today. Simultaneously, EDs have been closing at a steady rate over that same time and now only 3,700 EDs are open across the country. And while this poses a problem for hospitals and patients, it is important for providers and administrators to prepare for a growing increase in ED visits.
As the number of people visiting the ED grows, a report from the RAND Corporation highlights that EDs are responsible for nearly half of all hospital admissions. Between 2003 and 2009, “unscheduled hospital admissions from [EDs] grew by 17 percent.” The report goes on to say that a majority of patients with a regular primary care physician were advised by their doctor to first visit an ED rather than schedule an appointment. The consequence of such actions not only increases ED visits, but increases healthcare costs as EDs are reimbursed at a higher rate than the primary care office.
Looking at common medical procedures, The New York Times compared healthcare costs in the US to other countries and asks why Americans pay so much more for healthcare in the first of an ongoing series. A lack of price transparency and geographic variation account for some of the differential in expenses, but the article by Elizabeth Rosenthal points to a fragmented marketplace as the primary reason healthcare in the US is so much more expensive in comparison to other parts of the world.