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Am J Emerg Med. 2001 Jan;19(1):19-24.

Insurance status and admission to hospital for head injuries: are we part of a two-tiered medical system?

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Section of Emergency Medicine, University of Wisconsin, Madison, WI 53792, USA.


Previous studies have shown an association between insurance status and use of resources for inpatient care. We sought to assess whether insurance status influences decisions regarding the evaluation and treatment of head injured patients in the emergency department (ED). Head injured patients were identified from ED data from 4 hospitals reporting to the Kentucky Emergency Medical Services Information System. Multiple regression analysis using admission, ED length of stay, and ED charges as outcome variables was then performed. From 216,137 ED visits there were 8,591 (4%) head injured patients identified from the database. Eliminating those with revisits, transfers to another hospital in the database, and isolated facial lacerations, there were 3,821 cases. Controlling for age, hospital, race, primary diagnosis, and indicators of severity of the injury, insurance status was significantly associated with hospital admission. Those uninsured were the least likely to be admitted (OR 0.41; 95% CI (0.31, 0.50), whereas those with public insurance had an intermediate probability (OR 0.50 95% CI (0.37, 0.68) as compared with those with private insurance. Similarly, ED charges were lower for Medicaid patients than insured patients ($880) and tended to be slightly lower for uninsured patients ($1,043) than insured patients ($1,141) (P =.001). Length of stay in the ED was shorter for publicly insured patients (179 minutes) than uninsured (186 minutes) and privately insured patients (192 minutes) (P =.001). The extent of evaluation and admission for head injured patients is associated with insurance status. This creates a dual standard of care for patients. Practitioners should work to standardize the evaluation of patients independent of paying status.

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