Objectives: This report describes ambulatory care visits to hospital emergency departments (EDs) in the United States. Statistics are presented on selected hospital, patient, and visit characteristics. Selected trends in ED utilization from 1992 through 2002 are also presented.
Methods: The data presented in this report were collected from the 2002 National Hospital Ambulatory Medical Care Survey (NHAMCS). NHAMCS is part of the ambulatory care component of the National Health Care Survey that measures health care utilization across various types of providers. NHAMCS is a national probability sample survey of visits to emergency and outpatient departments of non-Federal, short-stay, and general hospitals in the United States. Sample data are weighted to produce annual national estimates.
Results: During 2002, an estimated 110.2 million visits were made to hospital EDs, about 38.9 visits per 100 persons. From 1992 through 2002, an increasing trend in the ED utilization rate was observed for persons over 44 years of age. In 2002, abdominal pain, chest pain, fever, and cough were the leading patient complaints accounting for nearly one-fifth of all visits. Acute upper respiratory infection was the leading illness-related diagnosis at ED visits. From 1992 through 2002, decreases in ED visit rates were observed for intracranial injuries in children, and increases were found for depression in young adults and arthropathies among middle-aged and elderly patients. There were an estimated 39.2 million injury-related visits during 2002, or 13.8 visits per 100 persons. Diagnostic/screening services, procedures, and medications were provided at 86.8 percent, 43.2 percent, and 75.8 percent of visits, respectively. In 2002, approximately 12 percent of ED visits resulted in hospital admission. On average, patients spent 3.2 hours in the ED.