Characterization of Young Adult Emergency Department Users: Evidence to Guide Policy

J Adolesc Health. 2016 Dec;59(6):654-661. doi: 10.1016/j.jadohealth.2016.07.011. Epub 2016 Sep 6.


Purpose: The purpose of this study was to characterize young adult patients aged 19-25 years who are emergency department (ED) frequent users and study factors associated with frequent ED use.

Methods: ED visits among 19- to 25-year olds were identified from administrative records in California, Florida, Iowa, Massachusetts, and New York, 2010. Patients were analyzed for 12 months to study the frequency of their ED utilization. ED visits were categorized according to primary diagnosis. Patients were stratified by frequency of ED use: one visit (single users), two to four visits (infrequent users), and five or more visits (frequent users) in a 1-year period.

Results: We identified 1,711,774 young adult patients who made 3,650,966 ED visits. Sixty-six percent of patients were single users, 29% were infrequent users, and 4.6% were frequent users. Frequent users accounted for a disproportionate 28.8% of visits within the population studied. Frequent users had the largest proportion of visits for complications of pregnancy (13.6%) compared to single users (6.1%) and Medicaid (42.6%) compared to private insurance (17.3%). There was an increased risk of frequent ED use associated with females (odds ratio [OR]: 1.77), Medicaid (OR: 3.21), and Medicare insurance (OR: 4.22) compared to private insurance, and diseases of the blood (OR: 3.36) and mental illness (OR: 1.99) compared to injury and poisoning.

Conclusions: Frequent users comprise a significant portion of the young adult ED population and present with a large proportion of visits for complications of pregnancy. Policies targeting this population might focus on improved access to primary and urgent care, acute obstetric care, and better coordination of care.

Keywords: Emergency department; Frequent user; Young adult.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • California
  • Emergency Service, Hospital / statistics & numerical data*
  • Female
  • Florida
  • Health Services Accessibility*
  • Health Services Needs and Demand*
  • Humans
  • Iowa
  • Male
  • Massachusetts
  • Medicaid / statistics & numerical data
  • New York
  • Population Surveillance
  • Pregnancy
  • Retrospective Studies
  • United States
  • Young Adult