Dispelling an urban legend: Frequent emergency department users have substantial burden of disease

John Billings, Maria C. Raven

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

Abstract

Urban legend has often characterized frequent emergency department (ED) patients as mentally ill substance users who are a costly drain on the health care system and who contribute to ED overcrowding because of unnecessary visits for conditions that could be treated more efficiently elsewhere. This study of Medicaid ED users in New York City shows that behavioral health conditions are responsible for a small share of ED visits by frequent users, and that ED use accounts for a small portion of these patients' total Medicaid costs. Frequent ED users have a substantial burden of disease, and they have high rates of primary and specialty care use. They also have linkages to outpatient care that are comparable to those of other ED patients. It is possible to use predictive modeling to identify who will become a repeat ED user and thus to help target interventions. However, policy makers should view reducing frequent ED use as only one element of more-comprehensive intervention strategies for frequent health system users.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2099-2108
Number of pages10
JournalHealth Affairs
Volume32
Issue number12
DOIs
StatePublished - Dec 2013

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Health Policy

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