ED visits down 49% since January, analysis reveals

Emergency department volume fell 49 percent between January and April, with facilities in urban areas seeing the largest drop, according to an analysis from the Emergency Department Benchmarking Alliance.

The analysis includes self-reported comparative ED volume data for the first four months of 2019 and 2020 from EDBA members representing 2,240 EDs nationwide. EDBA examined trends in overall ED volume, along with volume differences based on facility type and location. 

ED volume rose 7 percent year over year in January and 4 percent in February, likely due to flu season.

"We started off the year with a positive increase in volume from the previous year across the board," Mike Gibbons, RN, executive director of EDBA, told Becker's. "That's been kind of consistent in what's going on in emergency medicine. Year-over-year, there is about a 2.5 percent annual increase in volume."

However, ED volume fell 19 percent year over year in March, when COVID-19 spurred nationwide lockdowns. By April, ED volume was down 48 percent. This figure depicts a larger hit to EDs compared to a recent CDC analysis, which found that average weekly ED visits fell 42 percent year over year in April. 

"The most surprising thing to me is the drastic reduction in pediatric emergency departments," Mr. Gibbons said, noting that the analysis includes data from 24 pediatric EDs — a relatively small sample size.

These facilities saw a 71 percent decrease in volume between January and April — the largest drop of all ED types. Freestanding EDs had a 49 percent drop in use over the same time period, while general EDs saw a 50 percent drop.

When sorted by location, facilities in urban areas had the largest drop in volume. Urban EDs went from treating an average of 128 patients daily in January to just 56 daily in April.

"This suggests that urban centers in major metropolitan areas were affected more from a volume decrease than in community hospitals and suburban settings," Mr. Gibbons said.

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