Emergency room visits increasing: study

The number of annual visits to the emergency room increased significantly between 1997 and 2007, indicates a study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

According to a study abstract, researchers used data from the National Hospital Ambulatory Medical Care Survey and found the annual number of visits to ERs increased to 116.8 million in 2007 from an estimated 94.9 million in 1997 -- a 23.1 percent increase, and nearly double what would be expected given the population growth over the same time period. The greatest rise in ER visits was among adults 18-64 and those on Medicaid.

Researchers also found the number of ERs available decreased by 5 percent over the course of the study, even though the number of ER visits increased. Median wait time to see a physician rose to 33 minutes from 22 minutes.

Study authors expressed concern over more recent events, speculating that the recent economic downturn and rising number of uninsured individuals has caused even more patients to seek care in ERs.

The study was published in the Aug. 11 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association.

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