Emergency Visits Are Increasing, New Poll Finds; Many Patients Referred by Primary Care Doctors
Health Care Reform Law Will Not Solve Crisis in Emergency Care — Coverage Doesn't Equal Access
More than 80 percent of emergency physicians responding to a poll said emergency visits are increasing in their emergency departments, with half reporting significant rises, and more than 90 percent expecting increases in the next year. Almost all (97 percent) reported treating patients on a daily basis who were referred to them by primary care doctors, going against a widely-held assumption that people are choosing to go to the emergency department instead of seeking primary care.
At the same time, 97 percent of emergency physicians also report treating Medicaid patients on a daily basis who could not find any other doctor to accept their health insurance. If the new health care reform legislation provides insurance coverage that reimburses doctors at Medicaid rates, this could exacerbate a lack of access to medical care.
“This poll confirms what we are witnessing in Massachusetts — that visits to emergency rooms are going to increase across the country, despite health care reform, and that health insurance coverage does not guarantee access to medical care,” said Dr. Sandra Schneider, president of the American College of Emergency Physicians. “Emergency medicine provides lifesaving and critical care to millions of patients each year and yet only represents 2 percent of the nation’s health care expenditures. Emergency physicians command the resources of a hospital to provide the best care for patients, but we must be prepared for increasing numbers of patients, not fewer, especially given our growing elderly population.”
ACEP conducted the poll from March 3 to March 11, 2011. E-mails were sent to 20,687 emergency physicians, and 1,768 responded. The survey has a theoretical sampling error range of ± 2.23.
While 79 percent of responding emergency physicians said their emergency departments use resources efficiently, nearly half of respondents (44 percent) said the fear of lawsuits was the biggest challenge to cutting emergency department costs. More than half (53 percent) of emergency physicians reported that fear of lawsuits is the main reason for ordering the number of tests they do.
“Emergency departments need more resources, not fewer, and medical liability reform would help reduce overall costs by reducing the need for defensive medicine,” said Dr. Schneider.
Two-thirds of emergency visits occur after business hours, when doctor’s offices are closed and patients have nowhere else to turn. Visits to ERs reached an all-time high of nearly 124 million in 2008, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and are expected to rise nationwide.
Physicians responding to the poll attribute the overall increase in emergency patients to patients without health coverage (28 percent) and a growing elderly population (23 percent) are seen by physicians as the most important reasons for the overall increase in ER patients.
An overwhelming 89 percent of physicians believe the number of visits to the emergency department will increase as health care reforms are implemented with 54 percent of them expecting to see a significant increase.
“Emergency visits have increased at twice the rate of the U.S. population, and less than 8 percent of those patients have nonurgent medical conditions, meaning the vast majority need to be there, said Dr. Schneider. “At the same time, hundreds of emergency departments have closed. The new health care reform law does not address these problems and with the elderly population and more emergency departments forced to shut down, this crisis will only get worse.
More than 1,400 (82.5 percent) responding to the poll said that lives were saved every day in their emergency departments. “Emergency medicine is critical at any hour of the day. It must be there when you need it,” said Dr. Schneider.
ACEP is a national medical specialty society representing emergency medicine. ACEP is committed to advancing emergency care through continuing education, research and public education. Headquartered in Dallas, Texas, ACEP has 53 chapters representing each state, as well as Puerto Rico and the District of Columbia. A Government Services Chapter represents emergency physicians employed by military branches and other government agencies.
Download a copy of the complete ACEP Poll Results