1 in 5 ED Patients Referred By Primary Care Doctors

Cheryl Clark, May 29, 2012

One in five patients who went to the ED but were not sick enough to require an inpatient bed said they sought the emergency department because their primary care doctor told them to go there, according to a federal survey.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's National Center for Health Statistics queried a large sample of non-admitted patients between the ages of 18 and 64 between January and June, 2011. The intent was to determine why they went to the ER instead of another less intense or less expensive care setting. 

The issue has been a political flashpoint with emergency department doctors in recent years because of statements from members of the Obama Administration and other political figures implying that ED overcrowding might be largely remediated if there were simply more primary care doctors willing to see a wide spectrum of patients.

"People don't realize that a lot of the patients who get sent to our emergency centers are referred there by their physicians," said Andrew Sama, MD, president-elect of the American College of Emergency Physicians.

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