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by Michelle Diament, From the AARP Bulletin Print Edition, June 1, 2009
Think your local emergency room is crowded? Here’s a startling look at why that might be.
An analysis of emergency room usage in the central Texas area found that in the last six years, just nine residents accounted for a whopping 2,678 visits. One of the nine was in the emergency room more than 100 times a year for four years.
Little is known about these nine individuals other than that they’re all middle-age, speak English and are about evenly split between male and female. Some have histories of substance abuse and mental health issues.
What is clear, though, is that the abundance of visits likely could have been avoided, says Anjum Khurshid, director of clinical research and evaluation at the Integrated Care Collaboration, which conducted the analysis.
“The key lesson of this is if we talk to each other and have a coordinated system, we can prevent these kinds of numbers,” Khurshid says.
Reducing the numbers could make a big difference. The average cost of an emergency room visit in the United States is about $1,000. At that rate, the nine Texans likely racked up more than $2.7 million in charges.
The results of the Texas analysis are no surprise, says Caroline Steinberg of the American Hospital Association. “Uninsured people don’t get primary care, so they end up going to the emergency room for things that could have been prevented had they had access to primary care.”
Michelle Diament is a freelance writer based in Memphis, Tenn.
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