Emergency Medicine

January 5, 1996 • Volume 6, Issue 1
Is it a vital safety net or a drain on health resources?
By Charles S. Clark

Introduction

The United States boasts the world's most advanced emergency medical system. But over-reliance on the emergency room for non- emergency needs - particularly by the poor and uninsured - has long prevented the specialty from being a hospital profit center. The movement toward managed care has prompted health insurers to seek cost savings by steering patients away from the emergency room except in true emergencies. Specialists worry that their prerogatives in defining such emergencies may be superseded by non-specialists reviewing cases after the fact. They also argue that emergency departments deserve ongoing financial support because, without universal health insurance, the emergency room will remain the only source of health care for many Americans.

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