Objectives Patients are presenting to emergency departments (EDs) with increasing complexity at rates beyond population growth and ageing. Intervention studies target patients with 12 months or less of frequent attendance. However, these interventions are not well targeted since most patients do not remain frequent attenders. This paper quantifies temporary and ongoing frequent attendance and contrasts risk factors for each group.
Design Retrospective population-based study using 10 years of longitudinal data.
Setting An Australian geographic region that includes metropolitan and rural EDs.
Participants 332 100 residents visited any ED during the study period.
Main outcome measure Frequent attendance was defined as seven or more visits to any ED in the region within a 12-month period. Temporary frequent attendance was defined as meeting this threshold only once, and ongoing more than once. Risk factors for temporary and ongoing frequent attenders were identified using logistic regression models for adults and children.
Results Of 8577 frequent attenders, 80.1% were temporary and 19.9% ongoing (12.9% repeat, 7.1% persistent). Among adults, ongoing were more likely than temporary frequent attenders to be young to middle aged (aged 25–64 years), and less likely to be from a high socioeconomic area or be admitted. Ongoing frequent attenders had higher rates of non-injury presentations, in particular substance-related (OR=2.5, 99% CI 1.1 to 5.6) and psychiatric illness (OR=2.9, 99% CI 1.8 to 4.6). In comparison, children who were ongoing were more likely than temporary frequent attenders to be aged 5–15 years, and were not more likely to be admitted (OR=2.7, 99% CI 0.7 to 10.9).
Conclusions Future intervention studies should distinguish between temporary and ongoing frequent attenders, develop specific interventions for each group and include rigorous evaluation.