Objective: This report presents the most current (2006) nationally representative data on visits to hospital emergency departments (ED) in the United States. Statistics are presented on selected hospital, patient, and visit characteristics.
Methods: Data are from the 2006 National Hospital Ambulatory Medical Care Survey (NHAMCS), the longest continuously running nationally representative survey of hospital ED utilization. The NHAMCS collects data on visits to emergency and outpatient departments of nonfederal, short-stay, and general hospitals in the United States. Sample data are weighted to produce annual national estimates.
Results: In 2006 there were 119.2 million visits to hospital EDs, or 40.5 visits per 100 persons, continuing a long-term rise in both indices. The rate of visits per 100 persons was 36.1 for white persons, 79.9 for black persons, and 35.3 for Hispanic persons. ED occupancy (the count of patients who had arrived, but not yet discharged, transferred, or admitted) varied from 19,000 patients at 6 a.m. to 58,000 at 7 p.m. on an average day nationally. Though overall ED visits increased, the number of visits considered emergent or urgent (15.9 million) did not change significantly from 2005, nor did the number of patients arriving by ambulance (18.4 million). At 3.6 percent of visits, the patient had been seen in the same ED within the previous 72 hours. Median time to see a clinician was 31 minutes. Of all ED visits, 35.6 percent were for an injury. Patients had computerized tomography or magnetic resonance imaging at 12.1 percent of visits, blood drawn at 38.8 percent, an intravenous line started at 24.0 percent, an x ray performed at 34.9 percent, and an electrocardiogram done at 17.1 percent. Patients were admitted to the hospital at 12.8 percent of ED visits in 2006. The ED was the portal of admission for 50.2 percent of all nonobstetric admissions in the United States in 2006, an increase from 36.0 percent in 1996. Patients were admitted to an intensive care unit at 1.9 percent of visits.