University of Michigan researchers envision ways to reduce inappropriate and costly emergency visits, including telemedicine and after-hours appointments.

Pinkeye isn’t a medical emergency. Neither is a puffy eyelid.

But a new study finds that nearly one in four people who seek emergency care for eye problems have those mild conditions, and recommends ways to help those patients get the right level of care.

The national study, led by University of Michigan researchers, looks at nearly 377,000 eye-related emergency room visits by adults with private insurance over a 14-year period. The team has published its results in the journal Ophthalmology.

Nearly 86,500 of those visits were for three conditions that don’t ever need emergency treatment, and cost much more to treat in an emergency setting while also adding to ER crowding. Only about 25,300 were for clear eye emergencies. The rest were somewhere in the middle.

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The researchers then looked deeper at what drove inappropriate use of ER visits for conjunctivitis (pinkeye), blepharitis (swollen eyelids) and chalazion (eyelid bumps).

Younger people, men, those with lower incomes or dementia, and people of color were more likely to seek emergency care for these non-emergency conditions. So were people who were “frequent flyers” in the emergency room, seeking ER care four times a year or more for non-eye problems.

On the other hand, those who had been seeing an eye specialist – optometrist or ophthalmologist – on a regular basis before their eye-related ER visit were much less likely to seek emergency care for a non-urgent eye problem.

Read the full press release here.