Image copyright Getty Images Image caption One hospital, Ragged Mountain Community Hospital in South Dakota, racked up more than 1,600 medical visits in a two-year period
1. South Dakota (population: 700,000)
2. Oklahoma (685,000)
3. Louisiana (531,000)
4. Kentucky (504,000)
5. West Virginia (475,000)
6. Texas (401,000)
More than half of healthcare visits in some of the most American states went to just six hospitals between 2011 and 2016, according to a report released by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
The hospitals – largely in South Dakota, Oklahoma, Louisiana, Kentucky and West Virginia – accounted for more than 40% of the almost 1.5 million emergency room visits recorded in those states over a two-year period.
The report did not break down individual hospitals’ stats for emergency room visits, instead noting that across all the individual states and federal jurisdictions – including Puerto Rico – more than 3.6 million people visited the emergency room in two years for conditions related to these hospital visits.
But it did note that all but two states saw more than 150,000 hospital visits for conditions that were not serious enough to justify an ER trip during the period.
The CDC published the report as part of its long-running effort to gather reliable data on hospital emergency room visits.
“The US has one of the lowest levels of well-founded emergency department use in the developed world,” CDC director Dr Robert Redfield wrote in a foreword.
Hospital ER visits have traditionally been understudied in the US, said Anne Morgan, a specialist in disaster response and recovery, but the increase in these visits during the past decade has been striking.
“This problem is real, and we need to take it seriously,” she told the BBC.
A key issue with ER visits, she explained, is that many of these visits actually have no place other than an emergency room.
“Recognition of these problems in South Dakota … led to increased health care spending, even with patients paying up front,” Ms Morgan said.
A newly released CDC database shows how these records are used by healthcare organisations and local and federal governments. A portion of the database also allows hospital administrators and outside providers to access the patients they treat.
One example is Ragged Mountain Community Hospital in South Dakota, which saw more than 1,600 emergency room visits in a two-year period.
“No one is keeping track of how many people go to us, and what they do when they leave,” said Heather Chisholm, chief executive at the hospital.
Image copyright Scott Belcher Image caption The CDC data suggests the rise in emergency room visits could have been caused by rising number of diagnoses
Though some are concerned about the trend, some hospital administrators stressed that ER visits serve a purpose.
“Eased access to care saves lives,” said Mark Arty, a registered nurse and executive director of Dallas County Healthcare System. “You’re going to see more ER visits in a crisis situation.”
In Texas, hospital visits for poisoning doubled in a decade, going from 47,000 cases in 2008 to 102,000 cases in 2016. Emergency room visits for these cases have gone up by about 5%, from 441,000 cases in 2012 to 460,000 cases in 2016.
In the worst scenario, the CDC data shows, ER visits for non-threatening conditions went up by 2.3%, from 4,086,000 cases in 2011 to 4,228,000 cases in 2016.
Read the full report