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CDC: Emergency room visits surged in 2009

October 18, 2011|By Eryn Brown, Los Angeles Times / for the Booster Shots blog
  • Patients wait to be treated at the Los Angeles County-USC Medical Center emergency room in September. The CDC reported Tuesday that Americans made 136 million emergency room visits in 2009, an increase of almost 10% from the previous year.
Patients wait to be treated at the Los Angeles County-USC Medical Center… (Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles…)

New estimates from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show that emergency room visits rose nearly 10% to 136 million in 2009.

The agency reported that:

  • ER visit rates were higher for African Americans than for whites.  
  • More than one-third of the ER patients were under 25.  
  • More than three-quarters were prescribed medication.  
  • Most — 85% — of ER patients had some form of insurance.
  • Only a small number — 8% — came to the emergency room with non-urgent issues.
  • The most common reason for visits was stomach and abdominal pain, at 9.6 million visits, followed by fever (7.4 million) and chest pain (7.2 million).

The preliminary data were released Tuesday at the meeting of the American College of Emergency Physicians in San Francisco. A statement from the organization linked the rise in emergency room visits to physicians' fear of lawsuits, citing two studies also presented Tuesday at the meeting.

The first, a survey-based study by researchers at Stony Brook University Medical Center in Stony Brook, N.Y., and at the Mt. Sinai School of Medicine and at Columbia University in New York City, found that in 27% of cases, emergency room physicians who admitted patients with chest pain said that they would not have thought it necessary to stay overnight in the hospital if they had been the patients themselves. "A significant proportion of admissions were affected by legal concerns," the study abstract stated.

The second presentation, out of the Morristown Hospital in Morristown, N.J., and the Emergency Medical Associates of New Jersey Research Foundation, reported that from 1996 to 2010, the percentage of heart failure patients discharged and sent home from 27 emergency departments in New York and New Jersey fell from 24.4% to 9.1% — a decrease of 63%; "Given the small change in mean patient age from year to year, it is unlikely that this is due to an aging population," they wrote. "We suspect this trend is mainly due to increasing concerns about medical malpractice litigation."

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