Healthcare reformers say the United States can save a lot of money by reducing unnecessary emergency room visits, but number crunchers are not so sure.
“The concept of ‘inappropriate’ visits is naive,” said Robert Lowe, a researcher at the Center for Policy and Research in Emergency Medicine at Oregon Health & Science University.
Two studies released this week found that it is difficult to define what an “unnecessary” or “avoidable” ER visit is, and reducing those visits may not actually save a lot of money.
The conventional healthcare reform wisdom is that people who lack access to primary care put off treatment, develop more expensive conditions, then get expensive treatment in the emergency room. Others go to the emergency room to treat non-emergency conditions like bladder infections or earaches.
As a result, many health reform proposals argue the cost of covering the uninsured will be offset by a reduction in spending on emergency room visits.
But research is mixed on how many emergency room visits are unnecessary, and how many could actually be avoided by increased access to primary care.
One of the studies released this week found that it is even difficult to define what an unnecessary or avoidable visit is.
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