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ED Physicians Sound Alarm on Overcrowding

Cheryl Clark, for HealthLeaders Media, April 29, 2011

The survey revealed that two-thirds of emergency room visits occurred after business hours, when doctor's offices are closed. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, visits to the ED were last reported at an all-time high of 124 million in 2008 and are expected to continue to rise.

"Emergency visits have increased at twice the rate of the U.S. population and less than 8% of those patients have non-urgent medical conditions, meaning the vast majority need to be there," Schneider emphasized. "At the same time, hundreds of emergency departments have closed. The new healthcare 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."

Other factors affecting care in the ED included an increasing number of patients seeking care who have no health coverage and a growing senior population. Visits from those populations were said to be the biggest reason for the overall increase in ER patients.

More than three-fourths of the doctors who responded to the ACEP survey said they believe their hospitals use resources efficiently, but 44% said fear of litigation was the biggest impediment to reducing department costs. Also, 53% of emergency physicians reported that fear of lawsuits is the main reason for ordering a larger number of tests than they otherwise would.

ACEP said that it sent e-mails of inquiry to 20,687 emergency physicians and received 1,768 responses.


Cheryl Clark is senior quality editor and California correspondent for HealthLeaders Media. She is a member of the Association of Health Care Journalists.
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