The New York Times‘ Kevin Sack reports on a Health Affairs study that explores “acute medical care,” particularly initial visits for the fever and cough type of stuff that would traditionally go to a primary care physician. While 42 percent of such visits were still handled by a patient’s personal physician, a full 28 percent took place in emergency rooms. According to Sack, that number includes almost all visits made outside of typical office hours, as well as most visits made by patients without insurance.
More than half of acute care visits made by patients without health insurance were to emergency rooms, which are required by federal law to screen any patient who arrives there and treat those deemed in serious jeopardy. Not only does that pose a heavy workload and financial burden on hospitals, but it means that basic care is being provided in a needlessly expensive setting, often after long waits and with little access to follow-up treatment.
Reform provisions such as medical homes, accountable care organizations and more money for primary care seek to rebalance acute care delivery in the United States, but Sack reports that the study’s authors fear it won’t be enough.
The authors warn that it might not be enough. “If history is any guide, things might not go as planned,” they wrote. “If primary care lags behind rising demand, patients will seek care elsewhere.”