Study objective: To determine the characteristics and health care experiences of patients who identify the ED as their usual source of care.
Methods: We conducted a cross-sectional survey in a Level I trauma center ED at an urban teaching hospital. Our population comprised 892 adults who presented to the ED over the course of 30 days. We asked participants about their regular source of health care, previous health care experiences, and perceptions of the use of the ED.
Results: Patients who reported the ED as their regular source of care were three times more likely to have used the ED more than once in the preceding year. Among the regular ED users, 68% desired a physician as their regular source of care, and 46% of these subjects said they had tried unsuccessfully to get one in the preceding year. Five variables were associated with self-report of the ED as the regular source of health care: annual income less than $30,000, having been refused care in an office or clinic in the past, perception that an ED visit costs less than an office visit, absence of chronic illness, and unwillingness to use the ED if a $25 copayment were in effect.
Conclusion: Low income, perceived mistreatment by health care providers, and misperception about charges contribute to use of the ED as a regular site for health care. These factors suggest the difficulty of altering health care use patterns in this group.