Older consumers have major concerns when it comes to seeking emergency medical care

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A study shows that fears about costs and safety are stopping many seniors from going to the ER

A new poll conducted by researchers from the University of Michigan has discovered the top reasons why many older consumers may put off going to the emergency room. According to the findings, older adults are primarily worried about long wait times, fear of contracting COVID-19, being admitted into the hospital, and health care costs. 

“Delaying emergency care can be dangerous, particularly for older adults who are at higher risk of complications and long-term health problems by putting off their treatment,” said researcher Alison Bryant, PhD. “These findings come at a critical time as coronavirus cases and deaths continue rising across the country, making individuals more reluctant to go to the emergency room.” 

Older consumers’ concerns 

For the study, the researchers analyzed survey responses from more than 2,000 older consumers between the ages of 50 and 80 who participated in the National Poll on Healthy Aging. They learned that the biggest deterrent for older people when thinking of going to the emergency room is long wait times, with more than 90 percent of the participants saying they take that into consideration. 

Concerns related to COVID-19 were the second biggest factor, as more than 85 percent of participants were worried about contracting the virus while in the ER. Other recent studies have discovered that the pandemic has made many consumers fearful of going to the emergency room; however, experts explained that timely care -- especially for older consumers -- is key to identifying the best treatment options and giving patients the best chance for recovery. 

The survey also revealed that more than 70 percent of participants left the emergency room instead of being admitted to the hospital; more than 60 percent preferred to seek out medical advice from their primary care physicians instead of going to the emergency room. 

“Access to appointments, or timely advice, is critical to this age group,” said researcher Dr. Preeti Malani. “This is especially true in the time of COVID-19, when early recognition of symptoms that require advanced care may make a sizable difference in outcomes.” 

Health care costs were a big concern for those who hadn’t yet become eligible for Medicare because of age. Fifty percent of participants between the ages of 50 and 64 were worried about the cost of going to the ER, while seven percent reported avoiding emergency care entirely because of the price tag. 

These fears aren’t unfounded; many of the participants reported having surprise bills worth tens of thousands of dollars upon returning home from previous emergency room trips. 

“Health insurers and policymakers are increasingly shifting costs to patients to deter over-use of care including the emergency department, but these policies may be putting our most vulnerable patients at risk of avoiding care even when they have urgent concerns,” said researcher Dr. Rachel Solnick. 

Improving hospital policies

The researchers hope that highlighting these concerns will create change in emergency rooms so that older people stop putting off emergency medical care. 

“These findings highlight important opportunities and a clear need for health care providers, insures, and health systems to better support older adults during and after medical emergencies to achieve higher-value, patient-centered acute care,” said researcher Dr. Christina Cutter. 

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