Oct. 17 (UPI) -- Researchers at the University of Maryland School of Medicine were shocked to find that nearly half of all medical care in the United States is delivered at hospital emergency departments.
In recent years, the percentage of care given at ERs has grown significantly, with a new study revealing a nearly 44 percent increase in visits over a 14-year period.
"I was stunned by the results. This really helps us better understand health care in this country," Dr. David Marcozzi, an associate professor in the UMSOM Department of Emergency Medicine, and co-director of the UMSOM Program in Health Disparities and Population Health, said in a press release. "This research underscores the fact that emergency departments are critical to our nation's healthcare delivery system. Patients seek care in emergency departments for many reasons. The data might suggest that emergency care provides the type of care that individuals actually want or need, 24 hours a day."
The study, published today in the International Journal of Health Services, analyzed data from several national healthcare databases covering all 50 states and Washington, D.C., between 1996 and 2010.
Researchers found there were nearly 130 million emergency room visits in 2010, compared to nearly 101 million outpatient visits and 39 million inpatient visits. Inpatient and outpatient visits are generally planned ahead of time, while emergency room visits are mostly unexpected.
The larger number of emergency room visits were associated with certain racial and ethnic minority groups. African-American patients visited emergency rooms at a higher rate than other racial groups, and patients without health insurance or who were on Medicare or Medicaid were significantly more likely to have emergency room visits than patients with health insurance.
African-American patients used the emergency room for healthcare in 2010 nearly 54 percent of the time, and African-American patients living in urban areas used emergency rooms 59 percent of the time, according to researchers. People living in the south used emergency rooms 54 percent of the time and in the west used it 56 percent of the time. Residents of the northeast visited the emergency room just 39 percent of the time.
Researchers say the use of emergency departments for non-emergency medical care can take away needed resources for actual emergency care, and point to a lack of preventive health care and effective prevention strategies.