Connecting Emergency Department Patients to Primary Care

J Am Board Fam Med. 2015 Nov-Dec;28(6):722-32. doi: 10.3122/jabfm.2015.06.150044.


Background: Inappropriate emergency department (ED) use among Medicaid enrollees is considered a problem because of cost. We developed and evaluated a system change innovation designed to remove system barriers to primary care access for Medicaid patients.

Methods: Patients who presented to the ED without an identified primary care provider were randomized to the intervention (n = 72) or comparison group (n = 68) for a 12-month study designed to connect these patients to primary care offices. Evaluation was mixed quantitative/qualitative.

Results: Significantly more intervention participants attended at least 1 primary care visit 3 months after the intervention (odds ratio [OR], 2.52; 95% confidence interval [CI], 1.06-6.02), though this difference was not significant by 12 months (OR, 1.74; 95% CI, 0.79-3.84). The intervention participants also did not have lower odds of returning to the ED for nonurgent reasons by the 12-month follow-up (OR, 1.27; 95% CI, 0.65-2.48). Patient-reported barriers to attending a primary care appointment were primarily social and health system-related factors.

Conclusion: The intervention did not decrease ED visits nor increase primary care use over the 12 months of the study period. The qualitative results provide insight into nonurgent ED utilization by patients with Medicaid, suggesting potential future interventions.

Keywords: Medicaid; Primary Health Care.

Publication types

  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Attitude of Health Personnel
  • Emergency Treatment / statistics & numerical data*
  • Female
  • Health Information Systems
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Medicaid
  • Middle Aged
  • Primary Health Care / statistics & numerical data*
  • United States
  • Young Adult