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About half of Americans get health care in ER

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(HealthDay News) -- When Americans need medical care, almost one in two people choose the emergency room, a new study reveals.

"I was stunned by the results. This really helps us better understand health care in this country," said Dr. David Marcozzi. He is an associate professor in the University of Maryland's department of emergency medicine.

"This research underscores the fact that emergency departments are critical to our nation's health care delivery system," Marcozzi said in a university news release.

"Patients seek care in emergency departments for many reasons. The data might suggest that emergency care provides the type of care that individuals actually want or need, 24 hours a day," he added.

The analysis of data from several national sources showed that there were more than 3.5 billion emergency department visits, outpatient visits, and hospital admissions during the 1996 to 2010 study period.

U.S. emergency department visits increased by nearly 44 percent over the 14-year period, the findings showed. Outpatient cases accounted for nearly 38 percent of visits, and inpatient care accounted for almost 15 percent of visits.

In 2010, there were nearly 130 million emergency department visits, compared with almost 101 million outpatient visits and nearly 39 million inpatient visits, according to the report.

Black Americans were much more likely to seek emergency department care than other racial/ethnic groups. In 2010, black people used the emergency department almost 54 percent of the time. The rate was even higher for black people in cities, at 59 percent, the researchers said.

The study also found that Medicare and Medicaid patients were more likely to use the emergency department.

Certain areas of the country also appeared to have a fondness for the emergency room. Rates of emergency department use were much higher in the South and West -- 54 percent and 56 percent, respectively -- than in the Northeast (39 percent).

The findings suggest that increasing use of emergency departments by vulnerable groups may be due to inequality in access to health care, the study authors noted in the news release.

The study was published online recently in the International Journal of Health Services.

More information

The U.S. National Library of Medicine explains when to go to the ER.

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