CDC Data Demonstrates Need for Urgent Care, Group Says

John Commins, for HealthLeaders Media , August 20, 2010

Federal data showing increasing demand and cost for emergency department visits for often non-emergency medical issues demonstrates the value of urgent care centers, a trade group for urgent care centers claims.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's National Health Statistics Reports shows that of the 116.8 million visits covered by the 2007 Emergency Department Summary, only 16.4% were admitted to a hospital or kept for observation, while 62% were referred to their primary care provider or a specialist for follow up.

Another 35% were referred back to the ED "as needed," presumably because they did not have a regular doctor. More than one third of the patients categorized their pain levels as "none" or "mild" the chief complaints continue to be—as they were in 2006— upper respiratory issues, earache, abdominal pain, wounds, and obstetrics complications.

While in the ED, the CDC data showed that 45.5% of the patients had a procedure, the majority of which were common procedures such as administration of IV fluids, splinting or wrapping, repair of a laceration, or a nebulizer treatment.

The Urgent Care Association of America says its member clinics can treat the vast majority of issues that don't require an inpatient stay and are not life or limb-threatening emergencies—at a lower cost and usually with a shorter wait time than a hospital emergency department.

A recent Press Ganey report detailed record-long waits at the nation's EDs. Emergency physicians say waits will lengthen as health coverage expands, EDs close, and hospitals fail to improve admitting processes.

John Commins is a senior editor with HealthLeaders Media.

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