Emergency Department Overcrowding Corresponds with Doctors’ Office Decreases
Research from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's National Center for Health Statistics reveals the primary reason for overcrowded emergency rooms is due to a lack of access to other health providers.
Between the years of 2008 and 2009, emergency department patients increased by more than 10 million, while physicians’ offices experienced a decrease of nearly 5 percent. Data from the NCHS survey found that this overload of emergency department visits was linked to the fact that nearly 80 percent of patients lacked access to a primary care provider; 62 percent of these patients did not have health insurance.
According to the NCHS survey, another key contributor to overcrowded emergency rooms has to do with a general belief (55 percent) that a hospital is the only place to seek medical attention. The influx has prompted private and public insurance providers to threaten reduction or refusal of payment for ED services as a strategy for reducing health care costs.
However, this approach is opposed by the American Medical Association and the American College of Emergency Physicians, who argue that patients shouldn’t be denied care because they can’t pay. According to Robert A. Lowe, M.D., an emergency physician in Oregon, “…patients feel the emergency department is the place they need to be,” and are not there in place of a doctor’s office.
There is no official trend for this increase in ED overcrowding and corresponding decrease in doctor’s office visits, but available data from 2010 and 2011 indicates that doctor’s visits are decreasing by approximately 4 percent annually. Various forms of data suggest that the decrease began during the economic downturn; the exact cause remains undetermined.
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