ER visits increasing, and often, not emergencies, report says

Emergency department visits in the state increased by nearly 10 percent between the 2006 and 2009 fiscal years, and a large portion of the visits weren’t emergencies, according to a report by the state Office of Health Care Access.

The report examined the approximately 85 percent of emergency department visits that do not result in a patient being admitted to the hospital. Of those visits, about 47 percent were for non-urgent reasons. Only about 10 percent were for conditions that were not preventable or avoidable. About 28 percent were for injuries.

And about 47 percent of the emergency department visits occurred between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m.–hours when doctors’ offices and community health centers are typically open on weekdays, the report noted.

City residents were most likely to use the emergency department, and most likely to go for non-urgent reasons. Those who did were the least likely to have commercial insurance, and more than half were covered by Medicaid. Residents of “wealthy” towns were the least likely to use emergency departments and had the lowest rate of non-urgent visits, although non-urgent care still represented 37.5 percent of their visits.

In fiscal-year 2009, 38.1 percent of emergency department visitors who were not admitted to the hospital had commercial insurance, down slightly from previous years. Just over a third had Medicaid, and 15.1 percent had Medicare. People without insurance represented 12.2 percent of emergency department visitors.

With an uptick in visits, several Connecticut hospitals–including Hartford Hospital, St. Francis Hospital and Medical Center, and UConn’s John Dempsey Hospital–have expanded their emergency departments, and many doctors expect them to get even busier in the coming years.