Introduction: For decades it has been known that patients use emergency departments for nonurgent care needs. This study was conducted to help determine how the health care community can assist patients achieve consistent health care while meeting the patient's perceived needs.
Method: A descriptive qualitative study was conducted based on interviews with 31 persons between 22 and 43 years of age following an ED visit for a nonurgent medical need. Exploration of the patient's perception was accomplished through open-ended questions in a structured interview format. Data were analyzed using content analysis.
Results: Patients who participated in our study revealed 3 major themes: (1) They were unable to obtain an appointment with a primary care provider (PCP); (2) they were referred by the staff (not the doctor) in PCPs' offices to be evaluated in the emergency department; and (3) it took less of their time to be seen in the emergency department than it did to contact their PCP, only to then be told to go to the emergency department.
Discussion: The findings of this study support the need for health care providers to find ways to provide nonurgent care in a timely and efficient manner. Multiple options for providing this care need to be conceived and evaluated.