Objective: This study characterized emergency department (ED) visits of patients who had received services in an ED within the previous 72 h.
Methods: ED data from the National Hospital Ambulatory Medical Care Survey were analysed for: (a) infectious-disease-related visits; (b) infectious-disease-related return visits; and (c) return visits reported within the previous 72 h for all visits. Data were collected from a nationally representative sample of hospital EDs and were weighted to generate national estimates.
Results: In 2002, an estimated 20.5 million ED visits occurred in the USA for infectious diseases, for a visit rate of 73/1,000 people. A total of 3.5 million total return visits to EDs occurred within 72 h, and 67% were for follow-up visits. An estimated 625,280 return visits were for infectious diseases (18% of total ED return visits); 72% of these were for follow-up services. For total visits and infectious-disease-related visits, the majority of return visits were reported among those aged 25--44 years and among females.
Discussion: Approximately seven of every 10 return visits to EDs in 2002 were for follow-up services, and no difference existed in the percentage of return visits for infectious diseases compared with total visits. A health services implication exists for treating this percentage of patients in EDs when primary care practitioners should be the point of contact.