Visits to the Emergency Department Increase Nationwide

For Release: Monday, April 22, 2002

Contact: NCHS Press Office (301) 458-4800


National Hospital Ambulatory Medical Care Survey: 2000 Emergency Department Summary. Advance Data No. 326. 31 pp. (PHS) 2002-1250. [PDF – 1.4 MB]

The latest national data on the use of hospital emergency departments show that there were 108 million visits in 2000, up 14 percent from 95 million visits in 1997. Because the number of hospitals providing emergency care decreased from 4,005 to 3,934 between 1997 and 2000, the number of annual visits per emergency department has increased about 16 percent since 1997, from 24,000 to 27,000, and waiting time for non-urgent visits has increased 33 percent, according to a new report released today by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The most seriously ill or injured patients (with needs deemed emergent) continue to get care about as quickly as in 2000 as in 1997. However, for non-urgent visits, patients on average waited about 68 minutes to see the doctor for non-urgent visits, up from 51 minutes in 1997.

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—65 visits per 100 persons per year—while the national average was 39 visits per 100 persons per year.

“The emergency department plays a critical role in our nation’s health care system, whether for treatment of a broken bone or as the first line of defense against bio-terrorism,” said David Fleming, MD, Acting Director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Stomach and abdominal pain, chest pain, and fever were the most commonly recorded reasons for a visit to the emergency department. Since 1997, an increase in visits with a primary diagnosis of chest pain or abdominal pain was found for women aged 45 and over. There were 1.3 million visits due to adverse drug reactions or other complications from medical care in 2000.

Persons aged 15 to 24 years had the highest injury visit rate. The most frequently recorded injury diagnoses were open wounds, 18 percent, and the most commonly mentioned body site injured was hand, wrist and fingers, 13 percent.

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 74 percent of all visits, virtually unchanged from 1999. There was an average of 1.6 drugs used or prescribed per emergency department visit. Since 1997, drug prescription rates increased for persons 15-44 years old. Medication for pain relief was the most frequent class of drugs administered.

The use of the emergency department varied by age and other patient characteristics. The African-American population used the emergency department at a rate 67 percent higher than of the white population in 2000.

About 14 percent of patients arrived at the emergency department by ambulance. About 16 percent of the visits were deemed to be emergent, that is, the patient should be seen within 15 minutes of arrival; another 31 percent of the visits were classified as urgent enough for the patient to need to see the doctor within an hour.

About 12 percent of patients seen in the emergency department were admitted to the hospital.

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 at the NCHS 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.