Effectiveness of interventions targeting frequent users of emergency departments: a systematic review

Ann Emerg Med. 2011 Jul;58(1):41-52.e42. doi: 10.1016/j.annemergmed.2011.03.007.


Study objective: Frequent users of emergency departments (EDs) are a relatively small group of vulnerable patients accounting for a disproportionally high number of ED visits. Our objective is to perform a systematic review of the type and effectiveness of interventions to reduce the number of ED visits by frequent users.

Methods: We searched MEDLINE, EMBASE, CINAHL, PsychINFO, the Cochrane Library, and ISI Web of Science for randomized controlled trials, nonrandomized controlled trials, interrupted time series, and controlled and noncontrolled before-and-after studies describing interventions targeting adult frequent users of EDs. Primary outcome of interest was the reduction in ED use. We also explored costs analyses and various clinical (alcohol and drug use, psychiatric symptoms, mortality) and social (homelessness, insurance status, social security support) outcomes.

Results: We included 11 studies (3 randomized controlled trials, 2 controlled and 6 noncontrolled before-and-after studies). Heterogeneity in both study designs and definitions of frequent users precluded meta-analyses of the results. The most studied intervention was case management (n=7). Only 1 of 3 randomized controlled trials showed a significant reduction in ED use compared with usual care. Six of the 8 before-and-after studies reported a significant reduction in ED use, and 1 study showed a significant increase. ED cost reductions were demonstrated in 3 studies. Social outcomes such as reduction of homelessness were favorable in 3 of 3 studies, and clinical outcomes trended toward positive results in 2 of 3 studies.

Conclusion: Interventions targeting frequent users may reduce ED use. Case management, the most frequently described intervention, reduced ED costs and seemed to improve social and clinical outcomes. It appears to be beneficial to patients and justifiable for hospitals to implement case management for frequent users in the framework of a clear and consensual definition of frequent users and standardized outcome measures.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Case Management
  • Emergency Service, Hospital / statistics & numerical data*
  • Health Services Misuse*
  • Hospital Costs
  • Humans
  • Ill-Housed Persons
  • Medically Uninsured
  • Socioeconomic Factors