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June 22, 1994

Nonurgent Emergency Department VisitsMeeting an Unmet Need

Author Affiliations

From the Division of Emergency Medicine, Department of Surgery, Emory University School of Medicine, and Center for Injury Control, Emory University School of Public Health, Atlanta, Ga.

JAMA. 1994;271(24):1953-1954. doi:10.1001/jama.1994.03510480077038

Americans will visit hospital emergency departments (EDs) more than 90 million times this year.2 Growth in ED visits has been particularly pronounced among Medicaid and Medicare recipients and uninsured patients.3 Although many patients seek emergency care for problems that threaten life or limb, most have less serious conditions. Use of the ED for nonurgent care has become so widespread that it is commonly cited as a major contributor to increasing health care costs.4,5

Federal reports estimate that between 40% and 55% of all ED visits involve nonurgent problems.3,6 Because care of minor illness or injuries in the ED generates greater charges, on average, than comparable care in a physician's office or outpatient clinic, various administrative and financial strategies have been proposed to divert patients from the ED. It is also assumed that demand for nonurgent care in the ED will decline when everyone is covered by

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