Visits to the Emergency Department Exceed 100 Million in 1999

Fewer Young People Require Emergency Treatment for Injuries

For Release: Monday, June 25, 2001

Contact: NCHS Press Office (301) 458-4800


National Hospital Ambulatory Medical Care Survey: 1999 Emergency Department Summary. Advance Data No. 320. 36 pp. (PHS) 2001-1250. pdf icon[PDF – 1 MB]

The latest national data on the use of hospital emergency departments show that there were 103 million visits in 1999, up 14 percent from 90 million visits in 1992. Because the number of hospitals providing emergency care did not increase during the 1990s, by the end of the decade these hospitals were seeing an additional 35,000 patients each day, according to a new report released today by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The increase in visits to the emergency department is a result of overall population growth as well as increases in the number of seniors. Older Americans, those 75 years of age and over, had the highest rate of emergency department visits–63 visits per 100 persons per year.

Over a third of visits were related to injuries. During the 1990s, injury visits dropped substantially for those under 25 years of age. “It’s encouraging,” said Dr. Jeffrey P. Koplan, Director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “that injury prevention efforts may be paying off for children and young adults. Still, we have more to do to make our homes and communities safer.” Almost 30 percent of injuries seen in the emergency department occurred at home.

Stomach and abdominal pain, chest pain, and fever were the most commonly recorded reasons for a visit to the emergency department. There were 1.4 million visits due to adverse drug reactions or other complications from medical care in 1999, up 80 percent from 1992.

CDC’s National Center for Health Statistics conducts this annual survey of visits to the emergency department as part of its National Health Care Survey, which also covers doctors’ offices, hospitals, nursing homes, hospices, and home health care.

The survey found that medications were used in 73 percent of all visits. From 1992 to 1999, the number of drugs prescribed increased by 34 percent. Older patients were more likely to have medications ordered or prescribed for them. Medication for pain relief was the most frequent class of drugs administered to children (under 15 years of age), surpassing antibiotics, the use of which has been declining since 1993.

The use of the emergency department varied by age and other patient characteristics. Patients with Medicaid were more likely to use the emergency department than those who had other forms of insurance or were without insurance. The African American population used the emergency department at about twice the rate of the white population in 1999. Between 1992 and 1999, the visit rate for black persons 65 years of age and over rose by 59 percent but did not change for white persons in this age group.

About 14 percent of patients arrived at the emergency department by ambulance. On average, patients waited about 49 minutes to see the doctor, but this varied considerably by hospital location and size of the emergency department.

About 17 percent of the visits were deemed to be emergent, that is the patient should be seen within 15 minutes of arrival; another 30 percent of the visits were classified as urgent enough for the patient to need to see the doctor within an hour.

About 13 percent of patients seen in the emergency department were admitted to the hospital; however, among those with a primary diagnosis of heart disease, some 60 percent were admitted.

The National Hospital Ambulatory Medical Care Survey is a national probability survey of visits to hospital emergency departments of non-Federal, short-stay and general hospitals in the United States. The report can be viewed or downloaded from the CDC Website.

CDC protects people’s health and safety by preventing and controlling diseases and injuries; enhances health decisions by providing credible information on critical health issues; and promotes healthy living through strong partnerships with local, national and international organizations.


Page last reviewed: October 6, 2006