The nation’s emergency departments saw more than 136 million patient visits in 2011, the highest number ever recorded, compared with 129.8 million in 2010, according to new data released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The percentage of patients with nonurgent medical conditions dropped by half—an overwhelming 96 percent were triaged as needing medical treatment within two hours, up from 92 percent in 2010.
“The growth in patient demand aligns with what emergency physicians have been seeing and predicting: demand is going to increase,” said Michael Gerardi, MD, FACEP, president of the American College of Emergency Physicians (ACEP). “Given that our nation’s population is aging, and emergency departments have a critical role as the front line of responding to disasters and infectious disease outbreaks in America, such as what we saw with Ebola, we need to prepare for increased numbers of patients.”
Experts project that emergency visits are likely to be around 140 million currently, given the 10-year trend of increasing visits at about 2.9 percent per year and factoring in a modest 1-percent growth for 2013.
“Given that our nation’s population is aging, and emergency departments have a critical role as the front line of responding to disasters and infectious disease outbreaks in America, such as what we saw with Ebola, we need to prepare for increased numbers of patients.”—Michael Gerardi, MD, FACEP
Dr. Gerardi said that despite the growing need for emergency care, most hospitals had not expanded their emergency departments as of 2011, nor had they made plans to expand in the subsequent two years.
“Emergency departments are essential to every community and must have adequate resources,” said Dr. Gerardi. “They continue to be under severe stress and face soaring demands, despite the efficiency of caring for more than 136 million of the sickest patients each year using only 4 percent of the nation’s health care dollar. This report is more evidence that we are going to need more resources, not less, in the future.”
In addition, Dr. Gerardi said a study just released by the Colorado Hospital Association confirmed that emergency visits are up significantly in Medicaid expansion states. The study found Medicaid expansion states saw a 5.6 percent increase in Medicaid emergency visits compared with the same period last year. Emergency departments in nonexpansion states saw a 1.8 percent increase, possibly, the study authors speculated, because people who were previously eligible for Medicaid were getting coverage and using emergency care more.