Objectives: This report describes ambulatory care visits to hospital emergency departments (EDs) in the United States in 2004. Statistics are presented on selected hospital, patient, and visit characteristics. Selected trends in ED utilization from 1994 through 2004 are also presented.
Methods: The data presented in this report were collected in the 2004 National Hospital Ambulatory Medical Care Survey (NHAMCS), 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 2004, an estimated 110.2 million visits were made to hospital EDs, about 38.2 visits per 100 persons. Visit rates have shown an increasing trend since 1994 for persons aged 22-49 years, 50-64 years, and 65 years and over. In 2004, more than 16 million patients arrived by ambulance (15.1 percent). At approximately 3 percent of visits, the patient had been seen in the ED within the last 72 hours. Abdominal pain, chest pain, fever, and back symptoms were the leading patient complaints, accounting for nearly one-fifth of all visits. Abdominal pain was the leading illness-related diagnosis at ED visits. There were an estimated 41.4 million injury-related visits or 14.4 visits per 100 persons. Diagnostic and screening services were provided at 89.9 percent of ED visits. Procedures were performed at 47.7 percent, and medications were prescribed at 78.4 percent of ED visits. Approximately 13 percent of ED visits resulted in hospital admission. On average, patients spent 3.3 hours in the ED, of which 47.4 minutes were spent waiting to see a physician.