The Effectiveness of Emergency Department Visit Reduction Programs: A Systematic Review

Ann Emerg Med. 2016 Oct;68(4):467-483.e15. doi: 10.1016/j.annemergmed.2016.04.015. Epub 2016 Jun 8.


Study objective: Previous reviews of emergency department (ED) visit reduction programs have not required that studies meet a minimum quality level and have therefore included low-quality studies in forming conclusions about the benefits of these programs. We conduct a systematic review of ED visit reduction programs after judging the quality of the research. We aim to determine whether these programs are effective in reducing ED visits and whether they result in adverse events.

Methods: We identified studies of ED visit reduction programs conducted in the United States and targeted toward adult patients from January 1, 2003, to December 31, 2014. We evaluated study quality according to the Grading of Recommendations Assessment, Development, and Evaluation criteria and included moderate- to high-quality studies in our review. We categorized interventions according to whether they targeted high-risk or low-acuity populations.

Results: We evaluated the quality of 38 studies and found 13 to be of moderate or high quality. Within these 13 studies, only case management consistently reduced ED use. Studies of ED copayments had mixed results. We did not find evidence for any increase in adverse events (hospitalization rates or mortality) from the interventions in either high-risk or low-acuity populations.

Conclusion: High-quality, peer-reviewed evidence about ED visit reduction programs is limited. For most program types, we were unable to draw definitive conclusions about effectiveness. Future ED visit reduction programs should be regarded as demonstrations in need of rigorous evaluation.

Publication types

  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Emergency Service, Hospital / statistics & numerical data*
  • Health Services Misuse / prevention & control*
  • Humans
  • Program Evaluation
  • United States