Objective: Emergency departments (EDs) are critical sources of care after natural disasters such as hurricanes. Understanding the impact on ED utilization by subpopulation and proximity to the hurricane's path can inform emergency preparedness planning. This study examines changes in ED utilization for residents of 344 counties after the occurrence of 7 US hurricanes between 2005 and 2016.
Methods: This retrospective observational study used ED data from the Healthcare Cost and Utilization Project State Inpatient Databases and State Emergency Department Databases. ED utilization rates for weeks during and after hurricanes were compared with pre-hurricane rates, stratified by the proximity of the patient county to the hurricane path, age, and disease category.
Results: The overall population rate of weekly ED visits changed little post-hurricane, but rates by disease categories and age demonstrated varying results. Utilization rates for respiratory disorders exhibited the largest post-hurricane increase, particularly 2-3 weeks following the hurricane. The change in population rates by disease categories and age tended to be larger for people residing in counties closer to the hurricane path.
Conclusions: Changes in ED utilization following hurricanes depend on disease categories, age, and proximity to the hurricane path. Emergency managers could incorporate these factors into their planning processes.
Keywords: disaster planning; emergency service; hospital; hurricane.