Emergency Department Visits and Proximity to Patients’ Residences, 2009–2010

March 19, 2015

The number of emergency department (ED) visits rose 44% from 1991 through 2010, even as the number of hospital EDs declined 10% over the same period.

As a result, EDs have increasingly experienced overcrowding and longer waiting times. Using data from the National Hospital Ambulatory Medical Care Survey, a new NCHS report provides how often patients go to the ED closest to their home, and how differences in geography, patient demographics, and hospital characteristics are associated with ED selection patterns.

Key Findings from the Report:

  • In 2009–2010, visits to emergency departments (EDs) occurred an average 6.8 miles from the patient’s residence, while the nearest ED was 3.9 miles from the home.
  • Less than one-half of all ED visits (43.8%) occurred at the ED closest to where the patient lived.
  • Visits within metropolitan statistical areas were less likely (37.2%) to take place at the closest ED compared with visits outside of metropolitan statistical areas (70.1%).
  • Within metropolitan statistical areas, visits that did not take place at the closest ED occurred more frequently among younger patients, at larger hospitals, and in EDs with longer waiting times, compared with visits to the closest ED.