Objective: To review the definition of 'primary care' and 'inappropriate' patients in ED and develop a generally acceptable working definition of a 'primary care' presentation in ED.
Method: A Medline review of articles on primary care in ED and the definitions used.
Results: A total of 34 reviewed papers contained a proposed definition or comment on the definition for potential 'primary care', 'general practice', or 'inappropriate' patients in ED. A representative definition was developed premised on the common factors in these papers: low urgency/acuity--triage categories four or five in the Australasian Triage Scale, self-referred--by definition, patients referred by general practitioner/community primary medical services are not primary care cases because a primary care service has referred them on, presenting for a new episode of care (i.e. not a planned return because planned returns are not self-referred), unlikely to be admitted (in the opinion of Emergency Nurse interviewers) or ultimately not admitted.
Discussion: This definition can be applied either prospectively or retrospectively, depending on the purpose. Appropriateness must be considered in light of a legitimate role for ED in primary care and the balance of resources between primary care and emergency medicine in local settings.