Objectives: We set out to study emergency department patient characteristics at a busy level-2 trauma center, to gain insight into the practise of emergency medicine, which is not yet recognized as a specialty in the Netherlands.
Methods: From May 27 to July 4 2001, the following data were recorded from the charts of all patients presenting to the emergency department: age, time and form of presentation, diagnostics, treatment, disposition and the single best diagnosis (International Classification of Disease-10 classification).
Results: The majority (84%) of the 5234 patients (134/day) patients seen were self-referred and treated by the emergency department physician. The remaining 16% were referred, usually by their general practitioner, directly to a specialty service, which saw them in the emergency department. Self-referred patients tended to be younger (average 33 years), with minor trauma, and infrequently required diagnostics (37%), treatment (49%) or admission (4%). The referred patients were older (average 50 years), with 41% needing admission. Only 16% of all patients were under 16 years of age. In all, there were five deaths (referred patients), 12 resuscitations, seven intubations, seven chest tube insertions and no lumbar punctures performed during the study period.
Conclusion: The acuity of self-referred patients seen by the emergency physicians is low, with little diagnostic testing and few interventions and resuscitations, even in a busy center. This has both training and practise implications and it may be inappropriate to take an emergency medicine practise model or curriculum from another country based on its emergency department population.