New state-specific data show a mix of obstacles to efficient, cost-effective care in the emergency room. One study shows that some EDs are diverting more patients than ever before due to overcrowding, while another finds hundreds of millions of dollars of waste in the emergency setting.
Is it any wonder patients are turning to their local urgent care centers in droves?
The Maryland Institute for Emergency Medical Services Systems reports that from 2013 to 2014, the number of yellow and red alerts (issued when EDs are overcrowded or there are no monitored beds available, respectively) shot up 34 percent in the Old Line State. The Maryland Hospital Association says the Affordable Care Act is one reason, owing to the fact that there are simply more people with health coverage showing up in the ED.
All that lost time adds up to lost dollars, too. The Center for Improving Value in Health Care estimates that unnecessary trips to the ED cost roughly $800 million annually in Colorado alone. Urgent care fared much better in a side-by-side comparison of cost to treat identical ailments; patients who sought relief for the common cold in the ED ran up an average bill of $709, compared with $114 at an urgent care center or in a physician’s office, according to the study. A visit for acute bronchitis will run Colorado patients (or their insurers) an average cost of $999 in the ED vs $126 in an urgent care center.
Problems in the ED have not gone unnoticed by the American College of Emergency Physicians. The group’s 2014 Report Card gives the national emergency care environment an overall grade of D+, taking into account access to emergency care, quality/patient safety, medical liability, public health/injury prevention, and disaster preparedness.