3.3% of ED visits 'avoidable,' study finds

A recent study published in International Journal for Quality in Health Care found 3.3 percent of U.S. ED visits may be "avoidable."

For the analysis, researchers — led by Renee Hsia, MD, a professor in the department of emergency medicine at University of California at San Francisco — conservatively defined "avoidable" visit as one in which an ED patient does not require diagnostic or screening services, procedures or medications and is discharged.

Study authors used this definition to analyze National Hospital Ambulatory Medical Care Survey data from 2005 to 2011. Researchers examined 115,081 records comprising 424 million ED visits for patients ages 18 to 64 who visited the ED and were sent home.

The study unveiled the top five complaints representing the 3.3 percent of avoidable ED visits included toothache, back pain, headache and other symptoms concerning psychosis and throat soreness.

During the study period, the top three ICD-9 discharge diagnoses were alcohol abuse, dental disorders and depressive disorders. Alcohol-related disorders and mood disorders represented 6.8 percent of avoidable visits and dental disorders reflected 3.9 percent.

"A significant number of 'avoidable' ED visits were for mental health and dental conditions, which the ED is not fully equipped to treat," researchers noted. "Our findings provide a better understanding of what policy initiatives could potentially reduce these 'avoidable' ED visits to address the gaps in our healthcare system, such as increased access to mental health and dental care." 

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