People With Diabetes Account for a Quarter of ER Visits in US

Miriam E Tucker

February 08, 2018

About one in four people aged 45 and older who made emergency department (ED) visits in 2015 in the United States had diabetes, new government data show.

According to the 2015 National Hospital Ambulatory Medical Care Survey (NHAMCS), an estimated 12 million ED visits that year were by patients aged 45 and older, representing 24% of ED visits by people in that age group and 80% of all ED visits by people with diabetes. 

NHAMCS is a nationally representative survey of US hospitals conducted by the National Center for Health Statistics. The 2015 survey includes data for about 21 000 ED visits in 243 hospitals. The proportion with diabetes was estimated based on those with an ICD-9 diagnostic code for diabetes in their medical record.

The report, published February 8, doesn't include the reasons for the ED visits except to say that "managing diabetes is the reason for some," but "many other reasons, such as chest pain or an injury, are also included."

The percentage with diabetes among all patients aged 45 and older who made ED visits increased from 2012 to 2015.

Interestingly, the percentage of all ED visits made by patients aged 45 and older with diabetes was highest not for the oldest group but for those aged 65–74, followed by those aged 75 and older, and then by those aged 45–64, in all years from 2010 to 2015.

And of note, 24% of the ED visits among those with diabetes aged 45–64 had Medicare as the primary expected payment source, compared with just 14% of the ED visits for patients aged 45–64 without diabetes.

The threshold age of Medicare eligibility for most American citizens is 65 years, but some younger people who are disabled and those with end-stage renal disease also qualify. 

A lower percentage of ED visits for patients aged 45–64 with diabetes had private insurance (32%) as their primary expected source of payment compared with nondiabetes visits (38%).

People with diabetes aged 45–64 were also nearly twice as likely to be hospitalized following an ED visit, 22% compared to 12%, among those without diabetes in that age group in 2015. 

The authors have reported no relevant financial relationships.

NCHS data brief, no 301. February 2018. Full article

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