Older patients’ perspectives on factors contributing to frequent visits to the emergency department: a qualitative interview study

Daisy Kolk*, Anton F. Kruiswijk, Janet L. MacNeil-Vroomen, Milan L. Ridderikhof, Bianca M. Buurman

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Background: Older patients are at high risk of unplanned revisits to the emergency department (ED) because of their medical complexity. To reduce the number of ED visits, we need more knowledge about the patient-level, environmental, and healthcare factors involved. The aim of this study was to describe older patients’ perspectives and experiences before and after an ED visit, and to identify factors that possibly contribute to frequent ED revisits. Methods: This was a qualitative description study. We performed semi-structured individual interviews with older patients who frequently visited the ED and were discharged home after an acute visit. Patients were enrolled in the ED of a university medical centre using purposive sampling. Interviews were recorded, transcribed, and coded independently by two researchers. Theoretical analysis was used to identify recurring patterns and themes in the data. Interviews were conducted until thematic saturation was reached. Results: In-depth interviews were completed with 13 older patients. Three main themes emerged: 1) medical events leading to feelings of crisis, 2) patients’ untreated health problems, and 3) persistent problems in health and daily functioning post discharge. Participants identified problems before and after their ED visit that possibly contributed to further ED visits. These problems included increasing symptoms leading to feelings of crisis, the relationship with the general practitioner, incomplete discharge information at the ED, and inadequate follow-up and lack of recovery after an ED visit. Conclusions: This qualitative study identified multiple factors that may contribute to frequent ED visits among older patients. Older patients in need of acute care might benefit from hospital-at-home interventions, or acute care provided by geriatric emergency teams in the primary care setting. Identifying frailty in the ED is needed to improve discharge communication and adequate follow-up is needed to improve recovery after an acute ED visit.
Original languageEnglish
Article number1709
JournalBMC Public Health
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 1 Dec 2021

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