Background: We investigated the extent to which immigrants and patients of Danish origin have different motivations for seeking emergency room (ER) treatment, and differences in the relevance of their claims.
Methods: Data were obtained from a questionnaire survey of walk-in patients and their caregivers at four Copenhagen ERs. The patient survey was available in nine languages, and addressed patient-identified reasons for using the ER. Caregivers were asked if the claim was appropriate to the ER. 3809 patients and 3905 caregivers responded. The response rate among patients was 54%. Only questionnaires in which both patient and caregiver had responded, and in which data on the patient's nationality were available, were included in the analyses (n = 3426). The effect of region of origin was examined using bivariate, stratified analyses and tested for independence.
Results: More among immigrant patients than among patients of Danish origin had considered contacting a primary caregiver before visiting the ER, and more immigrants reported going to the ER because they could not contact a general practitioner, or could not explain their problem on the telephone. Compared to immigrants, more patients of Danish origin explained that the ER was most relevant to their need. A higher proportion of claims among immigrants were seen by caregivers as not being appropriate to the ER.
Conclusion: Migrants have more irrelevant ER claims, presumably because of barriers in access to primary care. Access to primary care should be facilitated for these groups. Alternatively, ERs could include primary care activities as part of their services.