Patients with non-urgent conditions constitute at least 9 percent of all ER visits, according to a survey done by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
For many severely ill and injured persons, emergency rooms are a crucial link in the chain of survival between the onset of symptoms and treatment in a hospital. For persons whose health problems are less pressing but who believe they need urgent medical attention, emergency services are a gateway to additional health care.
For non-urgent care many uninsured people use hospital emergency rooms, where they must be treated whether they can pay or not. Many people who lack health insurance tend to forgo necessary care until their condition becomes intolerable. Hospital emergency departments or outpatient departments serve as the regular source of care for one out of every six uninsured patients.
According to the American Hospital Association, the number of ER visits increased 15 percent nationally between 1990 and 1999. This increase was partly due to greater numbers of uninsured individuals trying to get care. Other research from the National Health Policy Forum shows that about 75 percent of all ER visits that do not result in admissions are for non-emergencies that should be treated elsewhere.
Many of the uninsured rely on the nearest hospital emergency room for treatment, when they or their family members are sick. The uninsured are four times more likely than people who have health insurance to use the ER as their regular source of care.
But the ER is neither the most effective nor the most efficient setting for treating routine health problems. In addition, the ER setting does not provide a continuum of care for an uninsured patient once he or she is discharged. ER care is also very expensive.
Widespread lack of health care coverage affects not only the uninsured and their families, but also the communities in which they live and the greater society.