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Many Dental and Mental Health ER Visits Are ‘Avoidable’

Researchers say patients need better ways to deal with their problems

Avoidable ER Visits

Michael Skoglund/Getty Images

The study looked at more than 115,000 records of ER visits of adults ages 18 to 64.

A study of “avoidable” emergency room visits finds that many deal with mental health and dental conditions that ERs cannot easily treat. The study’s authors suggest policies that could reduce the visits, including giving patients increased access to mental health and dental care.

In recent years, health policy makers have targeted unnecessary ER visits in an effort to curb costs and use resources more efficiently.



While some previous studies have shown that as many as half of ER visits are unnecessary, researchers sought to be conservative in their approach, defining “avoidable” as those visits that “did not require any diagnostic or screening services, procedures or medications, and were discharged home.”

Using data from the National Hospital Ambulatory Medical Care Survey from 2005 to 2011, the study — whose results were published in the International Journal of Quality in Health Care — looked at more than 115,000 records of ER visits of adults ages 18 to 64.

Under a conservative methodology, researchers determined that 3.3 percent of visits were avoidable. Among the top five chief complaints in that group were toothaches and symptoms or problems related to psychosis.

The authors noted that insurance-imposed restrictions tend to be more limiting for mental health and dental coverage, which can result in patients using ERs as a last resort.

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