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This article has been peer reviewed. It is the author’s final published version in JAMA Network Open, Volume 2, Issue 8, August 2019, Article number e198642.

The published version is available at Copyright © Vashi et al.


Importance: Monitoring emergency care quality requires understanding which conditions benefit most from timely, quality emergency care.

Objectives: To identify a set of emergency care-sensitive conditions (ECSCs) that are treated in most emergency departments (EDs), are associated with a spectrum of adult age groups, and represent common reasons for seeking emergency care and to provide benchmark national estimates of ECSC acute care utilization.

Design, Setting, and Participants: A modified Delphi method was used to identify ECSCs. In a cross-sectional analysis, ECSC-associated visits by adults (aged ≥18 years) were identified based on International Statistical Classification of Diseases, Tenth Revision, Clinical Modification diagnosis codes and analyzed with nationally representative data from the 2016 US Nationwide Emergency Department Sample. Data analysis was conducted from January 2018 to December 2018.

Main Outcomes and Measures: Identification of ECSCs and ECSC-associated ED utilization patterns, length of stay, and charges.

Results: An expert panel rated 51 condition groups as emergency care sensitive. Emergency care-sensitive conditions represented 16 033 359 of 114 323 044 ED visits (14.0%) in 2016. On average, 8 535 261 of 17 886 220 ED admissions (47.7%) were attributed to ECSCs. The most common ECSC ED visits were for sepsis (1 716 004 [10.7%]), chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (1 273 319 [7.9%]), pneumonia (1 263 971 [7.9%]), asthma (970 829 [6.1%]), and heart failure (911 602 [5.7%]) but varied by age group. Median (interquartile range) length of stay for ECSC ED admissions was longer than non-ECSC ED admissions (3.2 [1.7-5.8] days vs 2.7 [1.4-4.9] days; P < .001). In 2016, median (interquartile range) ED charges per visit for ECSCs were $2736 ($1684-$4605) compared with $2179 ($1118-$4359) per visit for non-ECSC ED visits (P < .001).

Conclusions and Relevance: This comprehensive list of ECSCs can be used to guide indicator development for pre-ED, intra-ED, and post-ED care and overall assessment of the adult, non-mental health, acute care system. Health care utilization and costs among patients with ECSCs are substantial and warrant future study of validation, variations in care, and outcomes associated with ECSCs.

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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.

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