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Doctors Say Some Patients Use Emergency Rooms for Follow-Up Care

Photo: North Carolina doctors say unnecessary ER visits are a result of a lack of access to care, and can increase wait times for those with a true emergency. Photo credit: click/morguefile.com
Photo: North Carolina doctors say unnecessary ER visits are a result of a lack of access to care, and can increase wait times for those with a true emergency. Photo credit: click/morguefile.com
June 18, 2015

CHARLOTTE, N.C. – Americans visit emergency rooms more than 136 million times each year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and some make a second visit for issues that could better be addressed with a primary care or specialist physician.

A study published this month in the Annals of Internal Medicine found that about 8 percent of patients seen in the ER return in three days.

"Every emergency department deals with this,” says Dr. Lee Garvey, an ER physician at Carolinas Medical Center. “It's universal. People have need for episodic care, and if they either aren't connected or their primary care office is booked solid, then it's hard to work in a non-scheduled, follow-up appointment."

It's an issue the Carolinas Healthcare System in Charlotte has plans to address by this fall with a clinic specifically for post emergency care.

Garvey says another big factor in unnecessary ER visits is the fact that for many who don't have health coverage, it's their only access to care.

The unnecessary ER visits impact more than just the care of those patients, Garvey points out, and can clog up the wait times for people with a true emergency.

"It does place some volume of patients in the ED and just having that volume of patients with issues that can be cared for elsewhere does impact the flow and efficiency of the true emergency cases," he states.

According to the journalism public interest website Pro Publica, the average wait time at North Carolina hospitals is 147 minutes, 12 minutes higher than the national average.

Some hospitals in the state have average waits of as many as five hours.


Stephanie Carson, Public News Service - NC