Objectives: Patients leaving the emergency department (ED) without being seen (LWBS) by a physician have become a growing concern in overcrowded EDs. The purpose of this study was to determine the acuity level, reasons, and outcomes of LWBS cases.
Methods: LWBS patients (or their guardians) from two linked Canadian EDs (one adult, one pediatric), identified during 11 sampling periods of seven days' duration each, were contacted by telephone. Descriptive statistics are provided.
Results: A total of 711 (4.5%) of 15,660 registered emergency patients left without being seen (50% male; median age, 33 years). Triage-matched controls waited a median of 87 minutes before seeing a physician. Of the 711 LWBS cases, 512 (72%) were contacted and 498 agreed to participate. The most common major reason for leaving was "fed up with waiting" (44.8%). Overall, 60% of LWBS cases sought medical attention within one week; 14 patients were hospitalized, and one required urgent surgery. Triage level was not associated with the probability of subsequently seeking medical attention (61%, 61%, and 60% in triage levels 3, 4, and 5, respectively). Of the 198 (39%) who did not subsequently seek medical attention, 50 patients (26%) had been triaged as urgent and one patient died six days after ED registration.
Conclusions: The most common reason for LWBS is impatience during peak ED periods. Many of these patients seek medical care within one week. Complications occurred rarely; however, "high-risk" patients who leave without being seen do experience adverse health outcomes. Further research is required to examine ways to reduce LWBS cases.