Underutilization of the Emergency Department During the COVID-19 Pandemic
- Author(s): Lucero, Anthony David
- Lee, Andre
- Hyun, Jenny
- Lee, Carol
- Kahwaji, Chadi
- Miller, Gregg
- Neeki, Michael
- Tamayo-Sarver, Joshua
- Pan, Luhong
- et al.
Published Web Locationhttps://doi.org/10.5811/westjem.2020.8.48632
Introduction: The novel coronavirus 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic in the United States (US) prompted widespread containment measures such as shelter-in-place (SIP) orders. The goal of our study was to determine whether there was a significant change in overall volume and proportion of emergency department (ED) encounters since SIP measures began.
Methods: This was a retrospective, observational, cross-sectional study using billing data from January 1, 2017–April 20, 2020. We received data from 141 EDs across 16 states, encompassing a convenience sample of 26,223,438 ED encounters. We used a generalized least squares regression approach to ascertain changes for overall ED encounters, hospital admissions, and New York University ED visit algorithm categories.
Results: ED encounters decreased significantly in the post-SIP period. Overall, there was a 39.6% decrease in ED encounters compared to expected volume in the pre-SIP period. Emergent encounters decreased by 35.8%, while non-emergent encounters decreased by 52.1%. Psychiatric encounters decreased by 30.2%. Encounters related to drugs and alcohol decreased the least, by 9.3% and 27.5%, respectively.
Conclusion: There was a significant overall reduction in ED utilization in the post-SIP period. There was a greater reduction in lower acuity encounters than higher acuity encounters. Of all subtypes of ED encounters, substance abuse- and alcohol-related encounters reduced the least, and injury-related encounters reduced the most.