Frequent users of an inner-city emergency department

CJEM. 2012 Sep;14(5):306-13. doi: 10.2310/8000.2012.120670.


Background: Within the emergency department (ED) patient population there is a subset of patients who make frequent visits. This chart review sought to characterize this population and identify strategies to reduce frequent ED visits.

Methods: Frequent use at an urban tertiary care centre was defined as 15 or more visits over 1 year. The details of each visit-demographics, entrance complaint, discharge diagnosis, arrival method, Canadian Triage and Acuity Scale (CTAS) score, and length of stay-were analyzed and compared to data from the entire ED population for the same period.

Results: Ninety-two patients generated 2,390 ED visits (of 25,523 patients and 44,204 visits). This population was predominantly male (66%) and middle-aged (median 42 years), with no fixed address (27.2%). Patients arrived by ambulance in 59.3% of visits with less acute CTAS scores than the general population. Substance use accounted for 26.9% of entrance complaints. Increased lengths of stay were associated with female gender and abnormal vital signs, whereas shorter stays were associated with no fixed address and substance use (. < 0.05). Admissions were lower than the general population, and women were twice as likely as men to be admitted (. < 0.05). Patients left without being seen in 15.8% of visits.

Conclusions: High-frequency ED users are more likely to be male, younger, and marginally housed and to present secondary to substance use. Although admissions among this population are low, the costs associated with these presentations are high. Interventions designed to decrease visits and improve the health of this population appear warranted.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Emergency Service, Hospital / statistics & numerical data*
  • Female
  • Hospitalization / statistics & numerical data*
  • Hospitals, Urban / statistics & numerical data*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Manitoba
  • Middle Aged
  • Ontario
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Tertiary Care Centers / statistics & numerical data*
  • Triage / statistics & numerical data
  • Young Adult