A new study has found visits to rural emergency departments increased by more than 50 percent from 2005 to 2016 with the most dramatic usage changes among non-Hispanic white patients, Medicaid beneficiaries and those without insurance. This increase is putting more pressure on already strained safety-net hospitals.
Researchers found the increase may be, at least in part, due to an increase in patients using the emergency department for illnesses that require less care or those that are chronic in nature.
Study authors say this suggests an increased burden of illness among rural populations or challenges accessing alternative care.
But emergency departments are not set up to help patients manage chronic illnesses, which means if patients are relying on them for primary care services, care may be fragmented and less effective.
The study was published today in the online Journal of the American Medical Association.
Appalachia Health News is a project of West Virginia Public Broadcasting, with support from Marshall Health and Charleston Area Medical Center.