Reducing frequent visits to the emergency department: a systematic review of interventions

PLoS One. 2015 Apr 13;10(4):e0123660. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0123660. eCollection 2015.


Objective: The objective of this study was to establish the effectiveness of interventions to reduce frequent emergency department (ED) use among a general adult high ED-use population.

Methods: Systematic review of the literature from 1950-January 2015. Studies were included if they: had a control group (controlled trials or comparative cohort studies), were set in an ED or acute care facility, and examined the impact of an intervention to reduce frequent ED use in a general adult population. Studies reporting non-original data or focused on a specific patient population were excluded. Study design, patient population, intervention, the frequency of ED visits, and costs of frequent ED use and/or interventions were extracted and narratively synthesized.

Results: Among 17 included articles, three intervention categories were identified: case management (n = 12), individualized care plans (n = 3), and information sharing (n = 2). Ten studies examining case management reported reductions in mean (-0.66 to -37) or median (-0.1 to -20) number of ED visits after 12-months; one study reported an increase in mean ED visits (+2.79); and one reported no change. Of these, 6 studies also reported reduced hospital costs. Only 1 study evaluating individualized care plans examined ED utilization and found no change in median ED visits post-intervention. Costs following individualized care plans were also only evaluated in 1 study, which reported savings in hospital costs of $742/patient. Evidence was mixed regarding information sharing: 1 study reported no change in mean ED visits and did not examine costs; whereas the other reported a decrease in mean ED visits (-16.9) and ED cost savings of $15,513/patient.

Conclusions: The impact of all three frequent-user interventions was modest. Case management had the most rigorous evidence base, yielded moderate cost savings, but with variable reductions in ED use. Future studies evaluating non-traditional interventions, tailoring to patient subgroups or socio-cultural contexts, are warranted.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Case Management / economics
  • Case Management / organization & administration*
  • Cost Savings / economics
  • Emergency Service, Hospital / statistics & numerical data*
  • Hospital Costs
  • Humans
  • Patient Care Planning
  • Quality Assurance, Health Care
  • Randomized Controlled Trials as Topic

Grant support

Dr. Clement is supported by a Harkness/Canadian Foundation for Healthcare Improvement Fellowship in Health Care Policy and Practice. The funder had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.