Patients Visiting Multiple Emergency Departments: Patterns, Costs, and Risk Factors

Acad Emerg Med. 2017 Nov;24(11):1349-1357. doi: 10.1111/acem.13304. Epub 2017 Oct 23.


Objectives: We sought to characterize the population of patients seeking care at multiple emergency departments (EDs) and to quantify the proportion of all ED visits and costs accounted for by these patients.

Methods: We performed a retrospective, cohort study of deidentified insurance claims for privately insured patients with one of more ED visits between 2010 and 2016. We measured the number of EDs visited by each patient and determined the overall proportion of all ED visits and ED costs accounted for by patients who visit multiple EDs. We identified factors associated with visiting multiple EDs.

Results: A total of 8,651,716 patients made 16,390,676 ED visits over the study period, accounting for $26,102,831,740 in ED costs. A significant minority (20.5%) of patients visited more than one ED over the study period. However, these patients accounted for a disproportionate amount of all ED visits (41.4%) and all ED costs (39.2%). A small proportion (0.4%) of patients visited five or more EDs but accounted for 2.8% of ED visits and costs. Among patients with two ED visits within 30 days, 32% were to different EDs. Having at least one ED visit for mental health or substance abuse-related diagnosis was associated with increased odds of visiting multiple EDs.

Conclusions: A substantial minority of patients visit multiple EDs, but account for a disproportionate burden of overall ED utilization and costs. Future work should evaluate the impact of visiting multiple EDs on care utilization and outcomes and explore systems for improving access to patient records across care centers.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Cohort Studies
  • Emergency Service, Hospital / economics*
  • Emergency Service, Hospital / statistics & numerical data*
  • Female
  • Hospitals / statistics & numerical data*
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Male
  • Medical Overuse / economics*
  • Medical Overuse / statistics & numerical data*
  • Mental Disorders / economics
  • Mental Disorders / epidemiology
  • Middle Aged
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Risk Factors
  • Substance-Related Disorders / economics
  • Substance-Related Disorders / epidemiology
  • United States / epidemiology
  • Young Adult