Many Go to ER when Doctor's Office Closed

ATLANTA, Sept. 16 (UPI) — Twenty-eight percent of healthcare visits for stomach pain, fever, chest pain, cough or chronic condition flare-up are made in U.S. hospitals, researchers say.

Lead author Stephen R. Pitts of Emory University School of Medicine says busy schedules of primary care doctors — coupled with limited access to primary care services — have resulted in many seeking care in hospital emergency departments even when there is no emergency.

The study, published in the journal Health Affairs, finds 42 percent of visits for acute care are made to the primary care doctor.

“More and more patients regard the emergency department as an acceptable or even the proper place to go when they get sick, and the reality is that the emergency room is frequently the only option,” Pitts says in a statement. “Primary care doctors have packed schedules and their offices are typically closed in the evenings and on weekends.”

The researchers analyzed 354 million annual hospital visits for acute care from 2001 to 2004, using data from the National Center for Health Statistics.

The study also finds:

– Uninsured patients received more than half their acute care in emergency departments.

– Two-thirds of acute care visits to emergency departments took place on weekends or on a weekday after doctors’ office hours.

– Stomach and chest pain were the most frequent acute care problems treated by emergency departments, while primary care doctors most often saw coughs, sore throats and skin rashes.

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