Family Physicians Make Important Contributions to Emergency Room Care

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Tuesday, Sept. 15, 2015(


Leslie Champlin
Senior Public Relations Strategist
(800) 274-2237, Ext. 5224

WASHINGTON, DC — Family physicians and internists submit more than two of every 10 claims for providing emergency department care in urban hospitals, according to Robert Graham Center research published in today’s American Family Physician.

In the research, “Family Physicians Contribute Significantly to Emergency Care of Medicare Patients in Urban and Suburban Areas,” Graham Center researcher Gerald Banks, MD, MS, analyzed emergency codes submitted to Medicare in 2012 by emergency departments. He sorted them according to the hospitals’ rural, urban or suburban location and the medical specialty – identified by the AMA Masterfile physician data as emergency, family or internal medicine – that submitted the claim.

Banks found that 21 percent of all urban emergency department claims were generated by either family physicians or internal medicine physicians. Family physicians submitted nearly 12 percent of the 15 million urban claims. Moreover, the number of family physicians’ urban claims represented 67 percent of all emergency claims submitted by family physicians, “indicating a large proportion of family physician emergency care occurs in non-rural settings.”

The data shed light on an under-recognized reality in health care: family physicians are a vital part of the nation’s emergency department workforce. For years, the staffing solution for rural hospitals has been family physicians. But Banks’ research shows that urban emergency departments also rely heavily on family physicians.

“We have a major workforce staffing issue in this country,” Banks said. Demand for emergency department care has increased, and production of emergency physicians hasn’t kept pace. “The demand for emergency physicians isn’t going to be met for years. We’ve got to figure out a way to staff these emergency departments.”

The study supports the Institute of Medicine recommendations that hospitals should not rely only on whether a physician is board certified in emergency medicine when they hire emergency department staff. Instead, their determination should be based on universal competencies and the physician’s experience, according to Banks.

Given the support provided to emergency departments by family physicians and general internists, the IOM recommendation would improve access to urgent and emergent care, according to Banks.

“These data show that family physicians are doing emergency department work and they’re doing it well,” he said. “They’re billing for emergency patients that are as complex as those handled by board certified emergency doctors.”

Family medicine residency training requires specific training in emergency medicine and family physicians maintain their expertise with continuing medical education throughout their careers. Emergency medicine and urgent care is the American Academy of Family Physicians’ second largest member interest group. Member interest groups are AAFP forums for family physicians who share a professional focus to develop continuing professional development and provide input on AAFP policies and positions.

“A shift in the credentialing standards may benefit emergency department physician recruitment challenges and concurrently assure the public that emergency physicians are qualified regardless of board certification,” he concluded.


About the Robert Graham Center

The Robert Graham Center for Policy Studies in Family Medicine and Primary Care works to improve individual and population health by enhancing the delivery of primary care. The Center staff generates and analyzes evidence that brings a family medicine and primary care perspective to health policy deliberations at local, state, and national levels.

Founded in 1999, the Robert Graham Center is an independent research unit affiliated with the American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP). The information and opinions contained in research from the Center do not necessarily reflect the views or policy of the AAFP.