Nonurgent emergency department visits: the effect of having a regular doctor

Med Care. 1998 Aug;36(8):1249-55. doi: 10.1097/00005650-199808000-00012.


Objectives: The authors assess the association between having a regular doctor and presentation for nonurgent versus urgent emergency department visits while controlling for potential confounders such as sociodemographics, health status, and comorbidity.

Methods: A cross-sectional study was conducted in emergency departments of five urban teaching hospitals in the northeast. Adult patients presenting with chest pain, abdominal pain, or asthma (n = 1696; 88% of eligible) were studied. Patients completed a survey on presentation, reporting sociodemographics, health status, comorbid diseases, and relationship with a regular doctor. Urgency on presentation was assessed by chart review using explicit criteria.

Results: Of the 1,696 study participants, 852 (50%) presented with nonurgent complaints. In logistic regression analyses, absence of a relationship with a regular physician was an independent correlate of presentation for a nonurgent emergency department visit (odds ratio 1.6; 95% confidence interval 1.2, 2.2) when controlling for age, gender, marital status, health status, and comorbid diseases. Race, lack of insurance, and education were not associated with nonurgent use.

Conclusions: Absence of a relationship with a regular doctor was correlated with use of the emergency department for selected nonurgent conditions when controlling for important potential confounders. Our study suggests that maintaining a relationship with a regular physician may reduce nonurgent use of the emergency department regardless of insurance status or health status.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Confounding Factors, Epidemiologic
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Emergencies
  • Emergency Service, Hospital / statistics & numerical data*
  • Female
  • Health Care Surveys
  • Health Services Misuse / statistics & numerical data*
  • Hospitals, Teaching
  • Hospitals, Urban
  • Humans
  • Logistic Models
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • New England
  • Odds Ratio
  • Physicians, Family / statistics & numerical data*
  • Socioeconomic Factors