HealthDay News — Mental health and dental conditions account for a significant number of “avoidable” emergency department visits, according to a study published online in the International Journal for Quality in Health Care.

Renee Y Hsia, MD, and Matthew Niedzwiecki, PhD, from the University of California at San Francisco, used data from the National Hospital Ambulatory Medical Care Survey from 2005 to 2011 (representing 424 million emergency department visits made by patients aged 18 to 64 years) to characterize avoidable emergency department visits.

“Avoidable” was defined as a visit that did not require any diagnostic or screening services, procedures, or medications, and where patients were discharged home.

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The researchers found that 3.3 of all visits were “avoidable.” The 5 most common avoidable complaints included toothache, back pain, headache, other symptoms/problems related to psychosis, and throat soreness. The top International Classification of Disease, Ninth Revision discharge diagnoses included alcohol abuse, dental disorders, and depressive disorders. Alcohol-related disorders and mood disorders accounted for 6.8% of avoidable visits.

“Our findings provide a better understanding of what policy initiatives could potentially reduce these ‘avoidable’ emergency department visits to address the gaps in our healthcare system, such as increased access to mental health and dental care,” the authors write.

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Hsia RY, Niedzwiecki M. Avoidable emergency department visits: a starting point [published online August 31, 2017]. Int J Qual Health Care. doi: 10.1093/intqhc/mzx081