Study: Patients increasingly turn to ER for acute ailments

NEW YORK Millions of patients with such acute ailments as fevers and coughs turn to the emergency room for treatment, according to researchers. The findings serve as yet one more indicator for the need of convenient and affordable health services available at retail-based clinics.

Today, only 42% of the 354 million annual visits for acute care are made to patients' primary physicians. The rest are made to emergency departments (28%), specialists (20%) or outpatient departments (7%), according to the study titled "Where Americans Get Acute Care: Increasingly, It's Not At Their Doctor's Office."

The study, which examined records of acute care visits from 2001 to 2004, was published Tuesday in the journal Health Affairs.

Although fewer than 5% of doctors are emergency physicians, they handle a quarter of all acute care encounters and more than half of such visits by the uninsured, according to the study.

The study, which also was highlighted in The New York Times, calls into question how U.S. health care can be improved when an already overloaded system takes on some 30 million newly insured customers, thanks to healthcare reform.

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