Introduction: Patients who present to the ED for care and leave without being seen (LWBS) represent a significant problem. The objective of this study was to determine why patients LWBS, how long they perceived waiting versus actual time waited before leaving, and factors that might have prevented LWBS.
Methods: We conducted a prospective, scripted phone survey of all patients who left without being seen over a two-month period in 2006 at an ED with approximately 65,000 yearly visits. Outcome measures were number leaving, ability to obtain care after leaving, reason for leaving, would they return to this ED, perceived and actual time waited, number with a primary physician, and factors associated with leaving.
Results: One-hundred and twenty-seven of 11,147 total patients (1.1%) patients left without being seen. Seventy-two (56.7%) were interviewed within 8 days. Eighty-four and seven-tenths percent stated they had a primary physician. The mean age was 29.9 years, and 44.4% were male. The patient-reported mean time waited before leaving was 73.2 minutes while the actual mean time waited was 70.4 minutes. The reasons for leaving were the length of wait (76.7%), the problem resolved (12.3%), and for other reasons (11.0%). During the week after leaving the ED, 56.3% were able to obtain medical care. Sixty-five percent would seek future emergency care at this ED, 15.3% would not, and 19.7% would possibly return. During the wait, patients wanted information, lab tests/X-rays, and analgesics.
Discussion: Most would return for future ED care. Most had a physician and were able to obtain care elsewhere. Reduced LWBS might be accomplished by triage testing, communication and attention to pain.