Why patients visit emergency units rather than use primary care services

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June Nelson discusses the results of a survey of the factors that influence patients’ decisions to attend a rural emergency departmentSummaryHealth boards in Scotland are challenged with reducing emergency department (ED) attendances against a backdrop of year-on-year increases. It is often assumed that patients who attend EDs with non-urgent problems could access health care more appropriately, therefore a study was undertaken to try to understand patients’ perceptions of the urgency of their condition and how this influences their decision to attend EDs. This article reports the findings which suggest that ED staff should be cautious about making assumptions about patients who attend with ‘minor’ problems, and recommends further research on ED health-seeking behaviours.

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