In this photo taken, Nov. 30, 2010, nurses at University of Chicago Medical Center in Chicago work in the emergency room at the hospital.Source: M. Spencer Green/AP
A new study from researchers at the University of Maryland School of Medicine has found that nearly half of all medical care in the United States happens in emergency rooms — and it may mean that vulnerable populations aren’t getting care that meets all their needs.
The study examined data from 1996 and 2010 and found that emergency rooms provided, on average, 47.7% of medical care in the U.S.
Among certain populations, those numbers were even higher. African-Americans, women, and Medicare and Medicaid recipients, for example, were more likely to get their medical care at emergency rooms.
“I was stunned by the results,” Dr. David Marcozzi, an author of the study and an associate professor in the UMSOM Department of Emergency Medicine, said in a statement from the university. “This really helps us better understand health care in this country. This research underscores the fact that emergency departments are critical to our nation’s healthcare delivery system.”
According to Marcozzi, these findings mean that emergency rooms are providing vital care, especially for groups that face other barriers to accessing health care. “The data might suggest that emergency care provides the type of care that individuals actually want or need, 24 hours a day,” Marcozzi said.
In a phone call to Mic on Wednesday, Marcozzi explained that the reality of his research — that emergency care is filling vital health care needs — means that policy should adjust to reflect that reality.
“The emergency care system provides comprehensive care, anytime, day or night ... [emergency care] fills a very valuable need for the nation,” Marcozzi said, and policy changes to support emergency care in that function, and to better strengthen the connection between emergency care and outpatient primary care, are necessary.