Non-Urgent Use of Emergency Departments by Rural and Urban Adults


Hospital emergency departments (EDs) serve a vital role in the U.S. health care system, providing lifesaving, around-the-clock care to patients in acute health situations. However, use of the ED for non-urgent care is costly and reflects a suboptimal care setting, with estimates of over $32 billion annually attributed to avoidable ED costs. Studies show that compared to urban residents, people living in rural areas increasingly use the ED at higher rates. This study provides updated information and addresses gaps in knowledge about rural non-urgent ED use.

Key Findings:

  • Rural adults aged 18 to 64 are more likely than their urban counterparts to visit the emergency department in a given year (16% versus 13%).
  • Among all adults in this age group, 5% of those in rural places have used the ED for non-urgent reasons compared with 4% of those living in urban places.
  • Socio-demographic characteristics associated with higher rates of non-urgent ED use by rural residents include younger age, fair or poor mental and physical health, low income, public insurance coverage, and lower access to primary care.
Maine Rural Health Research Center
Erika Ziller, Carly Milkowski, Zachariah Croll, Yvonne Jonk