A retrospective study was carried out in a Hong Kong regional hospital with 24-h emergency service, to study the factors associated with shorter time to re-admission after acute exacerbation of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). From 1 January 1997 to 31 December 1997, the first admission (index admission) of each patient through the emergency room with COPD/chronic bronchitis/emphysema was included. A total of 551 patients fulfilled the inclusion criteria. The total acute and rehabilitative length of stay (mean +/- SD) was 9.41+/-11.67 days. Within 1 year after discharge, 327 patients (59 35%) were re-admitted at least once. Median time to first re-admission after discharge was 240 days. By Cox regression analysis, the following factors were independently associated with shorter time to re-admission: hospital admission within 1 year before index admission, total length of stay in index admission > 5 days, nursing home residency, dependency in self-care activities, right heart strain pattern on electrocardiogram, on high dose inhaled corticosteroid and actual bicarbonate level > 25 mmol l(-1). These factors may be relevant in the future planning of healthcare utilization for COPD patients.