Objective: For a variety of reasons, many emergency department (ED) visits are classified as less- or nonurgent (Canadian Triage and Acuity Scale [CTAS] level IV and V). A recent survey in a tertiary care ED identified some of these reasons. The purpose of our study was to determine if these same reasons applied to patients presenting with problems triaged at a similar level at a low- volume rural ED.
Methods: A 9-question survey tool was administered to 141 CTAS level IV and V patients who attended the South Huron Hospital ED, in Exeter, Ontario, over a 2-week period in December 2006. RESULTS: Of the 141 eligible patients, 137 (97.2%) completed the study. One hundred and twenty-two patients (89.1%) reported having a family physician (FP) and 53 (38.7%) had already seen an FP before presenting to the ED. Just over one-half of all patients (51.1%) had their problem for more than 48 hours, and 42 (30.7%) stated that they were referred to the ED for care. Fifty-three (38.7%) of the respondents felt they needed treatment as soon as possible. Many patients reported coming to the ED because: 1) their FP office was closed (21.9%); 2) they could not get a timely appointment (16.8%); or 3) the walk-in clinic was closed (24.8%). Only 6 patients (4.4%) specifically stated that they came to the ED because they had no FP. One-third of patients attended the ED because they believed it offered specialized services.
Conclusion: In this rural setting, most less- or nonurgent ED patients had an FP yet they went to the ED because they did not have access to primary care, because they perceived their problem to be urgent or because they were referred for or sought specific services.