An ED paradox: patients who arrive by ambulance and then leave without consulting an ED provider

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Scientists have called for strategies to identify ED patients with unmet needs. We identify the unique profile of ED patients who arrive by ambulance and subsequently leave without consulting a provider (ie, a paradoxical visit, PV).


Using a retrospective cohort design, administrative data from Winnipeg, Manitoba were interrogated to identify all ED patients 17+ years old as having zero, single or multiple PVs in 2012/2013. Analyses compare the sociodemographic, physical (eg, arthritis), mental (eg, substance abuse) and concurrent healthcare use profile of non-PV, single and multiple PV patients.


The study cohort consisted of 122 639 patients with 250 754 ED visits. Across all ED sites, 2.3% of patients (N=2815) made 3387 PVs, comprising 1.4% of all ED visits. Descriptively, more single versus non-PV patients lived in urban core and lowest-income areas, were frequent ED users generally, were substance abusers and had seven plus primary care physician visits. Multiple PV patients had a similar but more extreme profile versus their single PV counterparts (eg, 54.7% of multiple vs 27.4% of single PV patients had substance abuse challenges). From multivariate statistics, single versus non-PV patients are defined uniquely by their frequent ED use, by their substance abuse, as living in a core and low income area, and as having multiple visits with primary care physicians.


PV patients have needs that do not align with the acute model of ED care. These patients may benefit from a more integrated care approach likely involving allied health professionals.

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