CDC Releases Latest Data on Emergency Department Visits

For Release: March 18, 2004

Contact: NCHS/CDC Public Affairs, (301) 458-4800


National Hospital Ambulatory Medical Care Survey: 2002 Emergency Department Summary. Advance Data Number 340. 35 pp. (PHS) 2004-1250 pdf icon[PDF – 1.7 MB]

A new CDC report documents a continuing increase in the number of Americans seeking medical care in hospital emergency departments, even as other data show the actual number of emergency departments on the decline.

In 2002, Americans made 110.2 million visits to hospital emergency rooms, a 23 percent increase over the 90 million visits made in 1992. During the same period of time hospital emergency departments have decreased about 15 percent.

The findings were reported in the CDC’s latest annual summary of hospital emergency department visits, prepared by CDC’s National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS).

The most common reasons given for an emergency department visit were abdominal pain (6.5 percent), chest pain (5.1 percent), and fever (4.8 percent). The most frequently reported primary diagnoses were contusions (4.3 percent), acute upper respiratory infections (4.0 percent), open wounds except to the head (3.8 percent), and abdominal pain (3.7 percent).

Injury, poisoning, and adverse effects of medical treatment accounted for 35.5 percent of emergency department visits. Falls, being struck by or striking against, and motor vehicle traffic incidents were the leading causes of injuries accounting for about 40 percent of these visits. Visits for head injuries among children under 18 continue to decline, falling 75 percent since 1992.

Medications were provided at three-quarters of all visits, with an average of 2.3 drugs being prescribed in those cases where drugs (prescription or over-the-counter) were used. Pain relief medication accounted for more than one-third of all drug use. These were followed by fever reducing medication and antihistamines. From 1996 through 2002 the use of penicillin-related drugs has decreased by 20 percent while the use of more expensive and broader range quinolones (generic names such as ciprofloxacin and enoxacin) has increased by 171 percent, though penicillins continued to be nearly twice as frequently prescribed as quinlones.

Persons aged 75 and older continue to have the highest rate of emergency department visits (61.1 per 100 persons), while the next highest rate was for persons aged 15-24. Two percent of all visits were made by nursing home residents.

Other findings from the survey show that:

  • About 60 percent of emergency departments were located in metropolitan areas, but they represented 81 percent of encounters.
  • Forty-one percent of all emergency department visits occurred in the South – even though only 36 percent of the population lives in this region.
  • Private insurance remains the dominant source of payment (39 percent), followed by Medicaid (20 percent), and Medicare (15 percent).
  • Thirty-four percent of all emergency department visits required treatment within fifteen minutes, only ten percent were classified as non-urgent.

“National Hospital Ambulatory Medical Care Survey: 2002 Emergency Department Summary” can be viewed at CDC/NCHS web site. The Web site also contains additional information about the survey based on records from a representative sample of the nation’s emergency departments.


Page last reviewed: October 6, 2006