Objective: Consultation is a common and important aspect of emergency department (ED) care. We prospectively examined the consultation rates, the admission rates of consulted patients, the emergency physician (EP) disposition prediction of consulted patients and the difficult consultations rates in 2 tertiary care hospitals.
Methods: Attending EPs recorded consultations during 5 randomly selected shifts over an 8-week period using standardized forms. Subsequent computer outcome data were extracted for each patient encounter, as well as demographic data from the ED during days in which there was a study shift.
Results: During 105 clinical shifts, 1930 patients were managed by 21 EPs (median 17 patients per shift; interquartile range 14-23). Overall, at least 1 consultation was requested in 38% of patients. More than one-half of the patients (54.3%) who received a consultation were admitted to the hospital. Consultation proportions were similar between males and females (51% v. 49%, p=0.03). Consultations occurred more frequently for patients who were older, had higher acuity presentations, arrived during daytime hours or arrived by ambulance. The proportion of agreement between the EP's and consultant's opinion on the need for admission was 89% (kappa=0.77, 95% confidence interval 0.72-0.83). Overall, 92% of patents received 1 consultation. Six percent of the consultations were perceived as "difficult" by the EPs (defined as the EP's subjective impression of difficulties with consultation times, accessibility and availability of consultants, and the interaction with consultants or disposition issues).
Conclusion: Consultation is a common process in the ED. It often results in admission and is predictable based on simple patient factors. Because of perceived difficulty with consultations, strategies to improve the EP consultation process in the ED seem warranted.