Referral of medically uninsured emergency department patients to primary care

Melissa Lee McCarthy, Jon Mark Hirshon, Rebecca L. Ruggles, Anne Boland Docimo, Melvin Welinsky, Edward S. Bessman

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Objective: To examine the impact primary care referral has on subsequent emergency department (ED) utilization. Methods: Uninsured ED patients who reported not having a primary care (PC) provider were referred to PC services at a community health center (CHC). The number of CHC visits completed was documented and the utilization rates of hospital-based services (i.e., ED visits, outpatient clinic visits, and admissions) were compared for patients who completed a CHC visit and those who did not before and after referral. Results: Of the 655 referred patients, 22% completed at least one CHC visit. Patients who completed a visit were more likely to be older, to be female, and to have a chronic medical problem (p = 0.001). The number of visits to the CHC was significantly related to the payment method. Only 19% of those who were self-pay completed three or more CHC visits, compared with 63% of those who qualified for a sliding fee or insurance (p < 0.001). There was no significant difference in pre- or post-ED utilization between those who completed a CHC visit and those who did not. The only significant difference in utilization between the two study groups was for subsequent outpatient visits. Patients who completed a CHC visit were more likely to receive outpatient specialty care (23%) compared with patients who did not (12%) (p = 0.001). Conclusions: For uninsured patients with no regular health care provider, improving access to primary care services is not enough to reduce their visits to the ED.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)639-642
Number of pages4
JournalAcademic Emergency Medicine
Issue number6
StatePublished - Jan 1 2002


  • Access
  • Emergency department
  • Primary care
  • Referral
  • Utilization

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Emergency Medicine

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