Introduction: Limited access to medical care has resulted in large numbers of patients seeking primary care for non-emergent emergency conditions in emergency departments. This influx of patients is contributing to overcrowding and delays in care for patients with emergencies. In response, a system was implemented in which persons with non-emergent medical conditions, following a medical screening examination, did not receive further ED assessment or treatment and instead were referred to community resources. The purpose of this study was to describe the characteristics of individuals who were referred to community-based services, their condition after 72 hours, and their use of follow-up health care services.
Methods: All referred cases (n=225) were reviewed for chief complaint and demographics. Phone contact was attempted after 72 hours to determine the person's condition and if community resources were utilized.
Results: Of the 225 cases, 52% were female, with a mean age of 33 years. Their most common chief complaints were extremity problems (16%), toothache (9%), and medication refill (8%). Follow-up phone contact was successful with 82 people (37%) an average of 14 days after their ED visit. The majority (55%) reported their condition had improved; 39%were unchanged, and 6% were worse. Thirty-one people(40%) accessed community resources and 8 (26%) returned to another emergency department. No clinically significant associations were found between patient demographics and use of community resources.
Discussion: Most people who were successfully contacted for follow-up and who had come to the emergency department with non-emergent chief complaints did not access community resources and their condition frequently improved. Additional studies, with improved follow-up, are needed before suggesting that referring individuals to community resources is an acceptable practice.