North Carolina’s Medicaid program has spent at least $75 million for patients to have nonemergency complaints addressed in the emergency room over the past couple of years. According to a new report released by the state, patients have to gone to the ED with primary complaints as mundane as bad breath, sunburn, bunions, and common warts. The report goes on to specify that those concerns—and many more—could be handled much less expensively and just as safely in an urgent care center or family physician’s office (though it does not point out that patients would likely wait days to see their primary care doctor, but get same-day treatment in urgent care). The common cold racked up 230,000 visits all by itself. These patients are not just wasting healthcare dollars that could go elsewhere to more productive use, but also cluttering up the ED and stretching resources to an extent that could pose danger to patients with true emergencies. State health officials expressed hope that publicizing their concerns might get patients to consider the distinction between a true health emergency and a complaint that only requires same-day attention.
Why Are North Carolinians Going to the ED Instead of Urgent Care—at a Cost of $75 Million?