Emergency department use: a reflection of poor primary care access?

Am J Manag Care. 2015 Feb 1;21(2):e152-60.


Objectives: To determine whether the use of the emergency department (ED) for nonurgent care reflects poor access to community-based primary care providers (PCPs).

Study design: Using a survey of ED patients, insurance claims data, and administrative records identifying demographic factors, we analyzed the use of the ED in an impoverished area of Brooklyn, New York.

Methods: We examined original survey data to investigate the extent to which residents of northern and central Brooklyn use EDs for nonemergencies and whether these patients have access to PCPs. We used data from health insurers operating in northern and central Brooklyn, and New York state hospital ED visit data to investigate the factors influencing ED visits for ambulatory care-sensitive conditions (ACSCs). Logistic regression was used to identify characteristics that predict ED visits not resulting in admission for ACSCs.

Results: Of 11,546 patients that completed our survey, the presenting complaint was self-described as emergent by 57%, 30% had no PCP, and 19% reported no health insurance coverage. Using health insurance plan encounter data, only 15 % of patients had seen any provider within 1 week of the ED visit. Insurance type, age, gender, race/ethnicity, and socioeconomic status of area of residence influence the likelihood of these ED visits.

Conclusions: Correlating data from 3 sources, we suggest that the expansion of insurance under the Affordable Care Act may not be sufficient to reduce ED use for nonurgent conditions.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Ambulatory Care / organization & administration
  • Community Health Services / economics
  • Community Health Services / organization & administration*
  • Databases, Factual
  • Emergency Service, Hospital / economics
  • Emergency Service, Hospital / statistics & numerical data*
  • Female
  • Health Care Surveys
  • Health Services Accessibility / economics
  • Health Services Accessibility / statistics & numerical data*
  • Health Services Needs and Demand
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • New York City
  • Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act / organization & administration
  • Poverty
  • Primary Health Care / organization & administration*
  • Quality of Health Care*
  • Risk Assessment
  • Socioeconomic Factors