Toothache, back pain top list of 'avoidable' reasons to visit ED

Reducing the amount of avoidable emergency department (ED) visits could save healthcare organizations money while also improving patient health. A study in the International Journal for Quality in Health Care examined the types of avoidable ED visits to provide policymakers with data to help limit unnecessary ED visits.

The study used data from the National Hospital Ambulatory Medical Care Survey, covering avoidable ED visits from 2005 to 2011. Researchers examined 115,081 records of 424 million ED visits of patients seen in the ED and then discharged. ‘Avoidable’ visits were defined as those that did not require diagnostic or screening procedures and medications.

Results found 3.3 percent of ED visits were avoidable. The top five concerns for visiting the ED were toothaches, backpain, headache, symptoms related to psychosis and throat soreness. Additionally, alcohol abuse, dental disorder and depressive disorders were among the top ICD-9 discharges diagnoses. Alcohol and mood disorders accounted for 6.8 percent of avoidable visits, dental disorders accounted for 3.9 percent of diagnoses.

A significant number of ‘avoidable’ ED visits were for mental health and dental conditions, which the ED is not fully equipped to treat,” concluded first author Renee Y. Hsia, of the Department of Emergency Medicine, University of California at San Francisco. “Our findings provide a better understanding of what policy initiatives could potentially reduce these ‘avoidable’ ED visits to address the gaps in our healthcare system, such as increased access to mental health and dental care.”