For about two decades as the late 1990s, the US has witnessed a growth in emergency room visits which outpaced population growth. Emergency departments can be costly for hospitals to run, and overuse of them is often taken as a sign of an inefficient system.
Then Covid-19 happened, and ER visits plummeted. In the first months of the pandemic, ER visits in the US dropped 42% compared to the preceding year, and stayed lower throughout the year.
At the end of 2020 there were still 25% fewer visits than in precisely the exact same period in the former year, and original data show that despite widespread vaccinations and easing of pandemic protocols, emergency sections are still receiving about 10percent fewer visits compared to prior to the outbreak, says Arjun Venkatesh, who heads the department of emergency medicine at Yale University.
This is awful news.
Reduction in ER visits is a result of Covid-19
There are many factors contributing to the decrease in ER visits. Sometimes, patients are able to take advantage of better telehealth access even after regular physician’s office hours, allowing them to prevent emergency visits.
Programs trying to incentivize the use of distant or scheduled doctor’s appointments instead of ER visits are in place for quite a while, and such as the remainder of telehealth, Covid-19 eventually made them fall right into place.
But Venkatesh says this probably does not account for a large percentage of the missing patients, particularly one of disadvantaged communities that are less likely to possess telehealth access.
A look at the demographics provides a much better sense of what could be behind the decline. In comparison to 2019, the visits have been lagging especially for elderly patients, which Venkatesh states is an indicator of fear associated with possible exposure to Covid-19.
But the most drastic reduction was in children’s visits–about 66% below pre-pandemic levels–which likely points to fiscal trouble. Often, households without access to primary care–because of a lack of time or financial resources or because they reside in poorly served regions –may use emergency maintenance for their kids rather, but they might delay care out of concerns for its costs.
Venkatesh says it’s too early to tell whetherpatients will restart their old ER habits as vaccinations and reopenings continue. The quantity of visits appears to be stabilizing with the passage of months but it will require a while to check whether patients have developed a custom to delay care, for example, or utilize telehealth instead.
The fantasy of the inefficient ER trip
In the past, city or state programs that decreased ER visits with a few percentage points wou