Study Finds Medical Necessity, Perceived Quality, Convenience and Cost Drive Emergency Department Visits

During 2001 and 2002, researchers at Mount Sinai School of Medicine of New York University, New York, examined how people use emergency rooms.

The researchers analyzed information gathered from patients as they entered emergency rooms along with data in emergency room patient charts. The project is the first stage of Emergency Medicine Patients' Access to Healthcare (EMPATH), a national study sponsored by the Society for Academic Emergency Medicine.

Investigators analyzed 1,547 patient interviews and 1,956 chart reviews from a diverse sample of emergency room patients.

Key Findings

In presentations to the 2003 annual meeting of the Society for Academic Emergency Medicine, investigators reported the following:

  • "For most patients, [emergency room] utilization is not driven by lack of other affordable options, but rather by the scope, quality and availability of [emergency room] services as compared to other sources of health care."
  • "For minority and younger patients, financial constraints may dictate their access to healthcare options..." In four of the five regions studied, "[s]ignificantly more minority patients reported financial reasons for seeking care in the E[mergency D[epartment] than did white patients."