It's no surprise that people who live in low-income areas are more likely to visit a hospital emergency room than people who live in affluent areas.
But statistics released by the federal Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality show the numbers growing so much, there's cause for concern.
"As visits to the ED rise, policymakers are increasingly concerned about the potential cost, quality and long-tem health and healthcare system consequences of ED overcrowding, overuse, and inappropriate use," the agency says in its November report.
Among some of the reports more significant findings:
- Of the 124.9 million emergency visits in 2008, 98.5 million or three in four were for adults age 18 or older who needed care.
- Four out of five were treated and released, while 18.5% had illnesses serious enough to warrant admission. About 93.7% of those released were discharged home, the remainder either left against medical advice, were transferred to another acute care facility or went to another type of long-term or immediate care facility. Some of these died, or were referred to home health or psychiatric care.
- Women were 26% more likely than men to seek emergency care.
- Rates of ED visits were 90% higher for those from lowest income areas than for those from the highest.
- People from rural areas had rate of ED use that was 39% higher than those from urban areas.
- Injuries accounted for about 22.7% of all adult visits, while chronic disease accounted for the rest.
- Nine in 10 ED visits were for acute conditions and half of these were chronic conditions. Injuries and abdominal pain were the most frequent acute conditions while cardiac conditions and diabetes were among the most frequently seen.
Cheryl Clark is senior quality editor and California correspondent for HealthLeaders Media. She is a member of the Association of Health Care Journalists.