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September 14, 2008

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CDC Says Emergency Room Wait Time Averages an Hour

August 6, 2008

The average time that hospital emergency rooms patients wait to see a doctor has grown from about 38 minutes to almost an hour over the past decade, according to new federal statistics released Wednesday.

The increase is due to supply and demand, said Dr. Stephen Pitts, the lead author of the report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“There are more people arriving at the ERs. And there are fewer ERs,” said Pitts, an associate professor of emergency medicine at Atlanta’s Emory University.

Overall, about 119 million visits were made to U.S. emergency rooms in 2006, up from 90 million in 1996 – a 32 percent increase.

Meanwhile, the number of hospital emergency departments dropped to fewer than 4,600, from nearly 4,900, according to American Hospital Association statistics.

Another reason for crowding is patients who are admitted to the hospital end up waiting in the ER because of the limited number of hospital beds, Pitts added.

A shortage of surgical specialists also contributes. So, too, does the difficulty many patients have in getting appointment to doctor’s offices – which causes some to turn to emergency departments, experts said.

“It takes me a month to get an appointment for my own doctor, and I’m a physician, for God’s sake,” said Dr. Ricardo Martinez, an Atlanta trauma physician. He is executive vice president of Schumacher Group, an organization that manages about 140 hospital emergency departments.

The amount of time a patient waited before seeing a physician in an ER has been rising steadily, from 38 minutes in 1997, to 47 minutes in 2004, to 56 minutes in 2006.

Pitts added that 56 minutes may be the average, but it’s not typical: The average was skewed to nearly an hour because of some very long waits.

“Half of people had waiting times of 31 minutes or less,” Pitts noted.

Researchers also found that there has not been any recent increases in the number of patients arriving by ambulance, or in the number of cases considered to be true emergencies.

Black patients visited emergency departments at twice the rate as whites in 2006. Among age groups, the highest visitation rates were for infants and elderly people aged 75 and older.

About 40 percent of ER patients had private insurance, about 25 percent were covered by state programs for children and about 17 percent were covered by Medicare, the report found. About 17 percent were uninsured.

Some more findings: Summer and winter were the busiest season in ERs, and the early evening – around 7 p.m. – tended to be the busiest time of day. There were geographic differences as well, with hospitals in the South having the highest ER visitation rates.

Also, half of hospital admissions in 2006 came through emergency departments, up from 36 percent in 1996.

“The ER has become the front door to the hospital,” said Pitts, a fellow at the CDC’s National Center for Health Statistics.

Some doctors said the report supports a call for increased governmental funding for hospital emergency services.

“Millions more people each year are seeking emergency care, but emergency departments are continuing to close, often because so much care goes uncompensated,” Dr. Linda Lawrence, president of the American College of Emergency Physicians, said in a statement.

“This report is very troubling, because it shows that care is being delayed for everyone, including people in pain and with heart attacks,” her statement added.

The results are based on a national survey of 362 hospital emergency departments.

Article by Mike Stobbe

iNPLACENEWS

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CDC Report Says Mississippi Is Most Obese

July 17, 2008

Mississippi, Alabama and Tennessee lead the nation when it comes to obesity, a new government survey reported Thursday.

More than 30 percent of adults in each of the states tipped the scales enough to ensure the South remains the nation’s fattest region.

Colorado was the least obese, with about 19 percent fitting that category in a random telephone survey last year by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The 2007 findings are similar to results from the same survey the three previous years. Mississippi has had the highest obesity rate every year since 2004. But Alabama, Tennessee, West Virginia and Louisiana have also clustered near the top of the list, often so close that the difference between their rates and Mississippi’s may not be statistically significant.

Why is the South so heavy? The traditional Southern diet – high in fat and fried food – may be part of the answer, said Dr. William Dietz, who heads CDC’s nutrition, physical activity and obesity division.

The South also has a large concentration of rural residents and black women – two groups that tend to have higher obesity rates, he said.

Colorado, meanwhile, is a state with a reputation for exercise. It has plentiful biking and hiking trails, and an elevation that causes the body to labor a bit more, Dietz said.

Obesity is based on the body mass index, a calculation using height and weight. A 5-foot, 9-inch adult who weighs 203 pounds would have a BMI of 30, which is considered the threshold for obesity.

CDC officials believe the telephone survey of 350,000 adults offers conservative estimates of obesity rates, because it’s based on what respondents said about their height and weight. Men commonly overstate their height and women often lowball their weight, health experts say.

“The heavier you are, the more you underestimate your weight, probably because you don’t weigh yourself as often,” Dietz said.

Overall, about 26 percent of the respondents were obese, according to the study, published this week in CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.

A different CDC survey – a gold-standard project in which researchers actually weigh and measure survey respondents – put the adult obesity rate at 34 percent in 2005 and 2006, the most recent years for which there are data.

Article by Mike Stobbe

iNPLACENEWS

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.