Australian Health Review Australian Health Review Society
Journal of the Australian Healthcare & Hospitals Association
RESEARCH ARTICLE

Frequent emergency attenders: is there a better way?

Sue E. Kirby A B , Sarah M. Dennis A , Upali W. Jayasinghe A and Mark F. Harris A

A Research Centre for Primary Health Care and Equity, School of Public Health and Community Medicine, Faculty of Medicine, University of New South Wales, Sydney, NSW 2052, Australia.

B Corresponding author. Email: s.kirby@student.unsw.edu.au

Australian Health Review 35(4) 462-467 http://dx.doi.org/10.1071/AH10964
Submitted: 9 August 2010  Accepted: 16 February 2011   Published: 14 October 2011

Abstract

Background. Understanding the reasons for frequent re-attendances will assist in developing solutions to hospital overcrowding. This study aimed to identify the factors associated with frequent re-attendances in a regional hospital thereby highlighting possible solutions to the problem.

Methods. A retrospective analysis was performed on emergency department data from 2008. Frequent re-attenders were defined as those with four or more presentations in a year. Clinical, service usage and demographic patient characteristics were examined for their influence on re-presentations using multivariate analysis.

Results. A total of 8% of the total patients presenting to emergency re-attended four or more times in the year. Frequent re-attenders were older, presented with an unplanned returned visit and had a diagnosis of neurosis, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), convulsions, dyspnoea or repeat prescriptions, follow-up examinations or dressings and sutures and less likely to present in summer. Frequent re-attendances were unrelated to sex, time of presentation or country of birth.

Conclusions. Diversion of patients with minor conditions to alternative services; referral of COPD patients to follow-up respiratory services and patients with neurosis to community mental health services would reduce emergency utilisation. Improving access to and resourcing of alternative non-hospital services should be investigated to reduce emergency overcrowding.

What is known about the topic? Frequent re-attendances at emergency contribute to emergency overcrowding and are a problem worldwide. Generally, frequent re-attendances have been associated with disadvantage. Identifying patient factors that predict re-attendances will assist in developing strategies to prevent their occurrence. The reasons for re-attendances may vary depending on access to other services and the role of the hospital.

What does this paper add? This paper adds to the field by demonstrating how routinely collected hospital data can be used to determine patient characteristics important in frequent re-attendances. The factors associated with frequently re-attending patients include older age, type of condition, unplanned return visit and season.

What are the implications for practitioners? This paper has implications for both administrators and clinicians. The diversion of attending patients with neurosis, COPD, dyspnoea or repeat prescriptions, follow-up examinations or dressings and sutures to alternative affordable and accessible services would reduce overcrowding in the emergency department.


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