Reducing Inappropriate Emergency Department Use

Ambulance pulling out of hospital emergency area.

Hospital emergency departments (EDs) are indispensable to the acute health care system. Yet, many ED visits are not emergencies or could be prevented with effective and timely outpatient care.

EDs offer convenient access to care after-hours and for people without a regular primary care physician, and until recently, most insurance plans did not discourage their use.

Patient demand for EDs is increasing, even as the number of hospitals with EDs is decreasing, leaving patients concentrated in more crowded EDs. Looking ahead, the aging population and growing burden of chronic disease will continue to put a strain on both primary care providers and EDs.

Key Lessons

  • Simple, gradual and targeted efforts to improve collaboration and communication with providers and patients can make all the difference in reducing ED use.

  • Data transparency on the use of health services can help identify avoidable ED use and the reasons behind it.

  • Initiatives to engage stakeholders to take action should involve working with them, not just talking to them.