Patient-Identified Needs Related to Seeking a Diagnosis in the Emergency Department

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Study objective:Although diagnosis is a valuable tool for health care providers, and often the reason patients say they are seeking care, it may not serve the same needs for patients as for providers. The objective of this study is to explore what patients specifically want addressed when seeking a diagnosis at their emergency department (ED) visit. We propose that understanding these needs will facilitate a more patient-centered approach to acute care delivery.Methods:This qualitative study uses semistructured telephone interviews with participants recently discharged from the ED of a large urban academic teaching hospital to explore their expectations of their ED visit and postdischarge experiences.Results:Thirty interviews were analyzed. Many participants reported wanting a diagnosis as a primary reason for seeking emergency care. When further asked to identify the functions of a diagnosis, they described wanting an explanation for their symptoms, treatment and guidance for symptoms, and clear communication about testing, treatment, and diagnosis. For many, a diagnosis was viewed as a necessary step toward achieving these goals.Conclusion:Although diagnosis may not be a feasible outcome of every acute care visit, addressing the needs associated with seeking a diagnosis may be achievable. Reframing acute care encounters to focus on addressing specific patient needs, and not just identifying a diagnosis, may lead to more effective transitions home and improved patient outcomes.

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