Transitions in health care settings for frequent and infrequent users of emergency departments: a population-based retrospective cohort study

Abstract Background Efforts to reduce emergency department (ED) volumes often target frequent users. We examined transitions in care across ED, hospital, and community settings, and in-hospital death, for high system users (HSUs) compared to controls. Methods Population-based databases provided ED visits and hospitalizations in Alberta and Ontario, Canada. The retrospective cohort included the top 10% of all the ED users during 2015/2016 (termed HSUs) and a random sample of controls (4 per each HSU) from the bottom 90% per province. Rates of transitions among ED, hospitalization, community settings, and in-hospital mortality were adjusted for sociodemographic and ED variables in a multistate statistical model. Results There were 2,684,924 patients and 579,230 (21.6%) were HSUs. Patient characteristics associated with shorter community to ED transition times for HSUs included Alberta residence (ratio of hazard ratio [RHR] = 1.11, 95% confidence interval [CI] 1.11,1.12), living in areas in the lower income quintile (RHR = 1.06, 95%CI 1.06,1.06), and Ontario residents without a primary health care provider (RHR = 1.13, 95%CI 1.13,1.14). Once at the ED, characteristics associated with shorter ED to hospital transition times for HSUs included higher acuity (e.g., RHR = 1.70, 95% CI 1.61, 1.81 for emergent), and for many diagnoses including chest pain (RHR = 1.71, 95%CI 1.65,1.76) and gastrointestinal (RHR = 1.66, 95%CI 1.62,1.71). Once admitted to hospital, HSUs did not necessarily have longer stays except for conditions such as chest pain (RHR = 0.90, 95% CI 0.86, 0.95). HSUs had shorter times to death in the ED if they presented for cancer (RHR = 2.51), congestive heart failure (RHR = 1.93), myocardial infarction (RHR = 1.53), and stroke (RHR = 1.84), and shorter times to death in-hospital if they presented with cancer (RHR = 1.29). Conclusions Differences between HSUs and controls in predictors of transitions among care settings were identified. Co-morbidities and limitations in access to primary care are associated with more rapid transitions from community to ED and hospital among HSUs. Interventions targeting these challenges may better serve patients across health systems.. Trial registration Not applicable.
BMC Health Services Research. 2023 Nov 14;23(1):1250