Objective: To determine the annual incidence of patient-defined emergencies and patients' use of emergency services at a family medicine teaching unit.
Design: Cross-sectional survey.
Setting: Hospital-based family medicine teaching unit in Montreal.
Participants: Registered patients attending a family medicine teaching unit during 11 consecutive weekdays.
Main outcome measures: Annual incidence of patient-defined medical emergencies and use of emergency services at the unit.
Results: Eligible patients made 815 visits during the study period; 584 usable questionnaires were returned for a response rate of 71.7%. In the previous 12 months, 37% of patients reported at least one medical emergency. For their last emergency, 42% reported using at least one of the emergency services offered by the clinic. Only 19% of patients with after-hours emergencies reported using our on-call system. Although socioeconomic and clinical variables did not predict the incidence of patient-defined emergencies, multivariate analysis revealed three significant predictors for use: patients with the practice for 5 or more years were more likely to use our services, while patients 75 and older and those with emergencies after hours were less likely to use our services.
Conclusions: In an urban group family practice, annual incidence of medical emergencies among registered patients was 37%. Those whose most recent emergency occurred after hours used the clinics' emergency on-call services disappointingly little.