Illustration of ambulance in front of hospital with a phone containing a medical app at the side.

Why your next ER visit may be virtual


Laura Mueller Essential Insights contributor, healthcare writer

Laura Mueller

Essential Insights contributor, healthcare writer

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The ER at a glance:

What emergency medicine looks like in America

Each year, 130.4 million people visit emergency rooms.

The average wait time before seeing a doctor is about 30 minutes.

The average overall length of stay is about 2 hours.

Who goes to the ER?

The most frequent reasons that people visit the ER are:

Most studies find that at least

30% of emergency room visits are non-urgent

The 4% of America's doctors who work in emergency medicine provide:

11% of all outpatient visits

28% of all acute care visits

1/2 of all acute care visits by Medicaid and CHIP beneficiaries

2/3 of all acute care visits by the uninsured

Due to lack of access to other providers, uninsured adults are twice as likely to visit the ER than those with private coverage.

Healthcare costs are rising,

but more efficient emergency rooms can help

2015 U.S. Healthcare Spending: 17.8% of GDP

U.S. healthcare spending reached $3.2 trillion in 2015, accounting for 17.8% of the GDP.

2025 U.S. Healthcare Spending: 19.9% of GDP

Overall healthcare spending is projected to increase at a rate of 5.6% a year. By 2025, it is expected to account for 19.9% of the GDP.

Emergency physicians play an important role in managing inpatient care costs. Of the 130.4 million ER visits annually, 12.2 million (9.4%) result in hospital admissions.

The average cost of a comprehensive emergency room visit is $922. The average cost of an inpatient stay is 10x higher at $9,200.

A key driver of increasing costs is inpatient care, accounting for 31% of America's healthcare expenses.

Between 13.7% and 27.1% of ER visits could be treated at other facilities like retail clinics or urgent care centers. The potential cost savings of treating these cases outside of the ER is $4.4 billion.

Telehealth can reduce overall costs

and keep people out of the hospital

The average estimated cost for a telehealth visit is just $40 to $50.

20% of ER visits require follow-up care for similar conditions, while only 6% of telehealth visits do.

A study of approximately 1,500 older adults found that telehealth was able to eliminate nearly 1 in 5 ER visits.

Regular use of telehealth services in nursing homes could save Medicare about $151,000 a year per facility in reduced inpatient admissions.

Early evidence of telehealth's success

The Veterans Health Administration saved nearly $1 billion in 2012 after implementing telehealth and other mobile health services. Annual savings per patient were $6,500.

After Mercy Health introduced their Virtual Care Center in 2015, expected inpatient lengths of stay decreased by 40%.

At Aurora Sinai Medical Center, the use of telehealth has reduced door-to-doctor times by 75%.

New York-Presbyterian Hospital and Weill Cornell Medical Center joined forces to create the NYP-Weill Cornell ED Telehealth Express Care Service in 2016. Within two months the service had reduced average ER visits from 4 hours to just 30 minutes for patients with minor complaints.