Factors predicting patient use of the emergency department: a retrospective cohort study

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Background:Many studies have shown the tendency for people without a regular care provider or primary physician to make greater use of emergency departments. We sought to determine the effects of three aspects of care provided by primary physicians (physician specialty, continuity of care and comprehensiveness of care) on their patients’ use of the emergency department.Methods:Using provincial administrative databases, we created a cohort of 367 315 adults aged 18 years and older. Participants were residents of urban areas of Quebec. Affiliation with a primary physician, the specialty of this physician (i.e., family physician v. specialist), continuity of care (as measured using the Usual Provider Continuity index) and comprehensiveness of care (i.e., number of complete annual examinations) were measured among participants (n = 311 701) who had visited a physician three or more times during a two-year baseline period. We used multivariable negative binomial regression to investigate the relationships between measures of care and the number of visits to emergency departments during a 12-month follow-up period.Results:Among participants under 65 years of age, emergency department use was higher for those not affiliated than for those affiliated with a family physician (incidence rate ratio [IRR] 1.11, 95% confidence interval [CI] 1.05–1.16) or a specialist (IRR 1.10, 95% CI 1.04–1.17). Among patients aged 65 years and older, having a specialist primary physician, as opposed to a family physician, predicted increased use of the emergency department (IRR 1.13, 95% CI 1.09–1.17). Greater continuity of care with a family physician predicted less use of the emergency department only among participants who made 25 or more visits to a physician during the baseline period. Greater continuity of care with a specialist predicted less use of the emergency department overall, particularly among participants with intermediate numbers of multimorbidities and admissions to hospital. Greater comprehensiveness of care by family physicians predicted less use of the emergency department.Interpretation:Efforts to increase the proportion of adults affiliated with a family physician should target older adults, people who visit physicians more frequently and people with multiple comorbidities and admissions to hospital.

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