Danger of multiple emergency room visits to different hospitals

If you are one of the more than 100 million Americans who visit emergency rooms (ER) at least once a year, you’re not alone.

Americans, insured and not, make ample use of hospital emergency rooms. One out of every five visited an ER at least once in 2007, the latest year for which the National Center for Health Statistics has data. Among the uninsured, 7.4 percent made two or more visits to an ER, but so did 5.1 percent of people with private insurance.

Well if you want to stay safe and receive quality medical care while you’re in the ER, it’s best if you visit the same ER each time.

A report published released recently in the Archives of Internal Medicine and reviewed by Kaiser Health News, showed that nearly one in three Massachusetts adults who made multiple ER trips to separate hospitals — some upwards of five — created a host of dangerous and costly problems because full health information is not always shared between hospitals. The reasons for choosing different facilities varied, sometimes patients moved or changed insurance between visits, while others got transferred between facilities.

This is the first state-wide study of its kind and it examined 3.5 million adults – who made 12.7 million visits to emergency rooms — in the state between 2002 and 2007.

Patients who visited multiple ERs were exposed to the risk of medical errors, adverse events, delays in their treatment while waiting for more information and duplication of testing which added costs. Patients who visited more than two different sites racked up nearly twice the bill ($12,050 on average) compared with patients who went to the same sites ($7,465).

The government has invested tens of millions of dollars to help providers implement electronic medical records systems. Until all providers get on board and install and use these devices, patients will continue to be at risk, not only in the ER, but doctors’ offices and hospitals as well , and we will receive poor, expensive health care.

Jeffrey I. Kreisberg served on the faculty the University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio where he was a Professor of Pathology, Medicine, Surgery, Urology, and Molecular Medicine.  He is the author of Taking Control of Your Healthcare.

 

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