Top 10 emergency visits in Australia

More than 8 million people visited public hospital emergency departments each year.


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The number of people attending the emergency ward has been growing from year to year – so what's bringing people to the hospital?

We've explained the top 10 reasons people ended up at emergency, using hospital statistics from the "Emergency department care 2017–2018" report put out by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare.

Key facts

Check 8 million presentations to public hospital emergency departments. This works out to be 22,000 people per day on average.

Check The number of people attending increased by about 2.7% per year.

Check 97.5% of all visits to the hospital were classed as emergency presentations.

1. Injury, poisoning and consequences of external causes

24.7% of visits totalling 1,978,371 admissions.

This covers injuries to all or multiple parts of the body, such as legs, arms and so forth. It also covers burns, frostbite and poisoning by any toxic substance. Visits over the year studied included about 110,000 open head wounds and just over 100,000 wounds on the wrist and hand.

While this was the most common reason for people to show up to emergency, it had one of the lowest rates of subsequent admission to hospital at just under 18% of patients going on to get a bed.

2. Abnormal clinical and laboratory findings, not classified elsewhere

20.7% of visits totalling 1,658,991 admissions.

This category includes ambiguous signs and symptoms that point equally to two or more different conditions or systems of the body. Anything with a more definite diagnosis is put in another category.

Abdominal, pelvic, throat and chest pain accounted for nearly 40% of patients with this kind of complaint. Abdominal and pelvic pain, in particular, was 3 times more common than the next most diagnosed condition for 20- to 29-year-olds.

3. Respiratory diseases

8% of visits totalling 629,447 admissions.

Diseases of the respiratory system can range from illnesses like influenza and pneumonia to lung diseases, acute upper respiratory infections and chronic lower respiratory infections.

This is the only category where emergency triage (patients deemed to need treatment in 10 minutes or less) actually outnumbered urgent cases (30 minutes or less). Around 40% of these sorts of cases took place in children under the age of 14.

4. Digestive diseases

5.4% of visits totalling 428,141 admissions.

The digestive system is defined quite broadly. It includes diseases of the organs you'd expect, such as the liver, intestines and pancreas, but hernias and appendicitis fall under this umbrella too.

Nearly half (47%) of all patients presenting with these symptoms were subsequently admitted to hospital.

5. Infectious and parasitic diseases

5.1% of visits totalling 407,330 admissions.

This is another broad category, including a lot of bacterial and viral infections that aren't really included in any of the others. These sorts of diseases can include tuberculosis, hepatitis and sexually transmitted diseases like syphilis.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, nearly half of the cases that showed up in the emergency room were children under the age of 14.

6. Factors influencing health status and contact with health services

5% of visits totalling 403,246 admissions.

This category is rather nebulous, encompassing anything which is classified as a "diagnosis" or "problem" without obviously being a disease or injury. People who are visiting the emergency room for reasons in this category may be donating an organ or tissue, getting a vaccine or simply discussing a health concern which isn't necessarily a disease.

As a result, only about 10.5% of the patients who visited for this reason were actually admitted to the hospital after, the lowest admission rate on this list.

7. Musculoskeletal system and connective tissue

4.7% of visits totalling 373,050 admissions.

This category is pretty self-explanatory, including muscle and soft tissue disorders, problems with bone density and joint disorders.

8. Diseases of the circulatory system

4.3% of visits totalling 343,290 admissions.

Some of the most common circulatory issues people contract are heart disease, illness related to your veins and lymph nodes and cerebrovascular diseases that affect the supply of blood to the brain.

This class of conditions had a huge intake rate, with 65% of patients being admitted to hospital after receiving their diagnosis. Circulatory conditions disproportionately affect older members of the population, with 72% of patients being over the age of 55.

9. Diseases of the genitourinary system

4% of visits totalling 319,769 admissions.

This doesn't just involve pelvic-region genital disorders, but renal failure, breast problems and kidney and urinary conditions like kidney stones.

10. Mental and behavioural disorders

3.6% of visits totalling 286,985 admissions.

An extremely broad category involving almost any mental health condition you can name, from affective mood disorders like depression to schizophrenia, personality conditions and mental disorders that result from substance abuse.

Despite this, only 34.5% of patients get admitted to the hospital following a diagnosis of mental or behavioural disorders.

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