Top 3 causes of 'avoidable' ED visits

More than 3 percent of all emergency department visits in the United States are unnecessary, suggests a study published in the International Journal for Quality in Health Care.

For the study, researchers examined records of 424 million emergency department visits documented in the National Hospital Ambulatory Medical Care Survey from 2005 to 2011. For the purposes of the study, researchers used a "very conservative" definition of what constitutes an avoidable ED visit. Researchers defined such a visit as one in which patients were discharged after receiving no diagnostic or screening services, medications or procedures. 

Researchers classified 3.3 percent of all ED visits as avoidable. The top diagnoses associated with avoidable visits were alcohol abuse, mood disorders and dental issues. Mood disorders and alcohol-related issues accounted for 6.8 percent of all avoidable visits and issues with the teeth and jaw accounted for 3.9 percent of all avoidable visits.

"Our most striking finding is that a significant number of avoidable visits are for conditions the ED is not equipped to treat," wrote the study's authors. "Emergency physicians are trained to treat life- and limb-threatening emergencies, making it inefficient for patients with mental health, substance abuse, or dental disorders to be treated in this setting … Our findings serve as a start to addressing gaps in the US healthcare system, rather than penalizing patients for lack of access, and may be a better step to decreasing 'avoidable' ED visits."

More articles on patient flow: 
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5 questions with naviHealth's Heather O'Sullivan on discharge planning 
Scripps hospice service to end in September

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