More than half of visits to emergency rooms in California’s San Diego County hospitals between 2004 and 2014 were for complaints that were nonemergent, according to the county Health and Human Services Agency there. Overall volume swelled by 40% over that time, despite population growth of just 7% in the nation’s eighth largest city. The problem has gotten so bad that civic leaders staged a media blitz, imploring residents through newspapers and television news to think twice about visiting the ED if another setting like urgent care would be equally appropriate in a given situation. The American College of Emergency Physicians echoed those concerns, warning people not to go to San Diego EDs for injuries or illness that could be treated safely elsewhere. Dr. Wilma Wooten, the county’s public health officer, says the overcrowding has not been helped by the millions of Californians who are newly insured thanks to the Affordable Care Act, or “Obamacare.” She suggests that improving public health literacy—particularly what constitutes a true emergency vs an “urgent” case—would be a good start toward alleviating the overcrowding.
San Diego Drowning in Flood of Nonemergent ED Visits