Primary Care Office Visits For Acute Care Dropped Sharply In 2002–15, While ED Visits Increased Modestly
The traditional model of primary care practices as the main provider of care for acute illnesses is rapidly changing. Over the past two decades the growth in emergency department (ED) visits has spurred efforts to reduce “inappropriate” ED use. We examined a nationally representative sample of office and ED visits in the period 2002–15. We found a 12 percent increase in ED use (from 385 to 430 visits per 1,000 population), which was dwarfed by a decrease of nearly one-third in the rate of acute care visits to primary care practices (from 938 to 637 visits per 1,000 population). The decrease in primary care acute visits was also present among two vulnerable populations: Medicaid beneficiaries and adults ages sixty-five and older, either in Medicare or privately insured. As acute care delivery shifts away from primary care practices, there is a growing need for integration and coordination across an increasingly diverse spectrum of venues where patients seek care for acute illnesses.