Characteristics and predictors of frequent utilization of emergency services

J Emerg Nurs. 2009 Jun;35(3):191-8; quiz 273. doi: 10.1016/j.jen.2008.04.032. Epub 2008 Aug 27.


Introduction: Although frequent ED users account for a small percentage of ED visits, these patients can drain the system, contributing to overcrowding and lowered quality of care.

Methods: This retrospective descriptive correlational study explored characteristics of frequent ED users at a large Midwestern urban hospital and factors predictive of high ED utilization. The sample included adult patients with at least 6 visits in 2005-2006 (N = 201). For each, 6 visits were randomly chosen for chart review (N = 1200 visits) of demographic, health history, and clinical factors such as chief complaints.

Results: Frequent users were commonly female, 35 years old, white, single, unemployed, living alone, with private insurance/Medicaid and a primary care physician. Top chief complaints were abdominal pain, headache, chest pain, low back pain, and lower extremity pain. However, a Poisson regression found that the following characteristics were associated with a higher number of ED visits: male, non-Black race, part-time employment, retired/unemployed, having Medicare, and having a chief complaint of upper respiratory infection. Headache approached significance as an independent predictor of more visits.

Discussion: Almost 95% had fewer than 10 ED visits per year, with pain the overall top chief complaint. Seventy percent of frequent visits occurred during either the evening or night shift, perhaps indicating access issues to primary physicians or urgent care clinics. The rate of frequent users was comparable with other investigations, yet few similarities in patient characteristics and predictors of high ED utilization were found, partly because of the retrospective design, but certainly reinforcing limited generalizability of ED utilization patterns across centers in different metropolitan and geographic regions.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Community Health Services / statistics & numerical data
  • Emergency Medical Services / statistics & numerical data*
  • Female
  • Health Status*
  • Hospitals, Urban
  • Humans
  • Medicaid / statistics & numerical data
  • Primary Health Care / statistics & numerical data
  • Prospective Studies
  • Retrospective Studies
  • United States