ER visits soar in 2003 due to rise in elderly visits

Share this content:

Emergency room visits increased to the highest number ever in 2003, partly as a result of increased use by adults aged 65 and older, a new report says.

Visits rose to 113.9 million from 90.3 million from 1993 to 2003, according to a report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That represents an annual increase of more than 2 million visits per year. During the same time, the number of hospital emergency departments decreased by about 14.1%.

"As America's elderly population continues to grow, we expect to see even more elderly patients in the coming years," said Dr. Robert Suter, president of ACEP, the national medical specialty society representing emergency medicine. "And if Congress does not act to avert the cuts in Medicare this year, elderly patients will find it increasingly difficult to be treated by their physicians, and even more elderly patients will be coming to the emergency department for medical care."

Only 13% of visits were for non-urgent medical conditions in 2003, according to the CDC. The average time between arrival and discharge ranged between 1 and 6 hours. Patients spent an average of 3.2 hours in the emergency department.