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Only 3% of emergency room visits may truly be avoidable, study … – FierceHealthcare

Though many emergency rooms are overcrowded and some patients may not have urgent needs, just a fraction of visits are truly avoidable, according to a new study.

Researchers examined datafrom the National Hospital Ambulatory Medical Care Survey from 2005 to 2011 that included more than 115,000 records representing 424 million emergency department visits, and found that only 3.3% were avoidable.The study team defined avoidable visits as thosethat did not require diagnostic tests, screenings, procedures or medications.

A number of these avoidable visits were for concerns that the ER is not equipped to treat, like dental or mental health issues, according to the study. Of the avoidable visits, 6.8% were for alcohol- or mood-related disorders, like depression or anxiety, while 3.9% were for dental conditions.

RELATED:4 strategies to reduce ER overcrowding

The findings, published in the International Journal for Quality in Health Care,challenge the commonly held belief that many people visit the ER needlessly, said RebeccaParker, M.D., president of the American College of Emergency Physicians, in an announcement.

Despite a relentless campaign by the insurance industry to mislead policymakers and the public into believing that many ER visits are avoidable, the facts say otherwise, Parker said. Most patients who are in the emergency department belong there and insurers should cover those visits. The myths about unnecessary ER visits are just thatmyths.

RELATED: ER visits offer a teachable moment to reduce drug use

The ER has been a frequent target for initiatives seeking to reduce overuse and the costs associated with emergency care. However, the researchers saidthat their findings point more toward the value in programs to improve patient access to services like mental health and dental care.

The study found that 10.4% of visits from patients with alcohol-related disorders and 16.9% of visits from patients with mood disorders were avoidable, suggesting that policymakers could do more to increase access to the services that would keep those patients out of the ER.

Our findings serve as a start to addressing gaps in the U.S. healthcare system, rather than penalizing patients for lack of access, and may be a better step to decreasing avoidable ED visits, the authors wrote.

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Only 3.3% of emergency room visits are ‘avoidable,’ study says – Healthcare Finance News

Only 3.3 percent of emergency room visits are avoidable, according to a study published Thursday in the International Journal for Quality in Health Care.https://academic.oup.com/intqhc/article-lookup/doi/10.1093/intqhc/mzx081

This is because those visits deemed ‘avoidable’ involve mental health or dental care, issues with which the ER is generally not equipped to deal, according to the study published in the peer-reviewed journal.

[Also: Medicaid expansion results in more emergency room trips; fewer patients uninsured]

The study shows that despite the health insurance industry’s campaign about avoidable ER visits, most patients in the emergency room belong there, said American College of Emergency Physicians President Becky Parker, MD.

The ‘avoidable’ emergency department visits are defined as visits in which patients did not require any diagnostic or screening services, procedures, or medications, and were discharged home.

“Most patients who are in the emergency department belong there and insurers should cover those visits,” Parker said. “The myths about ‘unnecessary’ ER visits are just that myths.”

The study analyzed data from the National Hospital Ambulatory Medical Care Survey from 2005 to 2011.

The most common ‘avoidable’ ER visits in the study included cases in which patients were discharged with alcohol- and mood-related disorders, or with dental conditions.

The study showed that 10.4 percent of visits by patients diagnosed with alcohol-related disorders, 16.9 percent for mood-related disorders and 4.9 percent for dental-related conditions, were ‘avoidable.’

While these visits were deemed avoidable, the majority of patients with these conditions still required some form of diagnostic or treatment service, said the study’s authors.

“We found that many of the common conditions of ‘avoidable’ emergency department visits involved mental health and dental problems, which ERs are generally ill-equipped to treat,” said lead study author Renee Hsia, MD, of the Department of Emergency Medicine at the University of California, San Francisco. “This suggests a lack of access to healthcare rather than intentional inappropriate use is driving many of these ‘avoidable’ visits. These patients come to the ER because they need help and literally have no place else to go.”

Twitter: @SusanJMorseEmail the writer: susan.morse@himssmedia.com

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