The Real Cost of ER Visits & How To Leverage Additional Health Care Options

Emergency Rooms provide a crucial service, but they are often misused. In fact, between 1/3 and 1/2 of all ER visits are for non-emergency issues, according to the National Ambulatory Medical Care Survey. A large number of ER visits also result from preventable medical conditions, such as obesity and type 2 diabetes. Overall, preventable and non-emergency conditions account for 71 percent of all ER visits.

When patients visit ERs for non-emergency or preventable conditions, the cost of health care drastically increases. The average ER trip costs $1,233, which is 40 percent more than the average American’s monthly rent. If patients took advantage of preventative or primary medicine rather than visiting the ER, the U.S. could save $18 billion every year.

ER Diversion through Urgent Care and Education

There are two main ways to reduce the number of ER visits Americans make every year: accessible urgent care and education initiatives.

Urgent care treatment is much less expensive then ER treatment, as evidenced by the following chart:

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Moreover, these prices don’t even account for the costs associated with “outlier” patients – that is, patients whose treatment is complicated by compounding conditions. For example, the average hip fracture may cost a hospital $75,000, but a hip fracture for an obese patient with diabetes could easily cost up to $1 million due to complications.

Unfortunately, many communities do not have easy access to urgent care, so they must resort to ERs. By bringing urgent care to patients in all communities, medical professionals can play a role in drastically reducing both the number of unnecessary ER visits and the overall cost of health care.

Education is important as well: when patients know about the services offered at urgent care centers, they can make smarter health care choices. Education also goes a long way in preventing high-cost medical conditions. Take the above example of the obese diabetic patient with a fractured hip. Through education initiatives, the patient may have been able to prevent obesity (and type 2 diabetes). This would have made their treatment less complicated and less expensive.

Proactive, Not Reactive

Patient education and accessible urgent care can create a more proactive system, one that emphasizes early intervention and patient engagement. This is the crux of value-based medicine: a system in which stronger relationships between doctors and patients, in conjunction with whole person health approaches and community-based education, result in smarter health care consumers who can make better, more cost-effective choices.