Introduction: Research has described emergency department (ED) use patterns in detail. However, evidence is lacking on how, at the time a decision is made, patients decide if healthcare is required or where to seek care.
Methods: Using community-based participatory research methods, we conducted a mixed-methods descriptive pilot study. Due to the exploratory, hypothesis-generating nature of this research, we did not perform power calculations, and financial constraints only allowed for 20 participants. Hypothetical vignettes for the 10 most common low acuity primary care complaints (cough, sore throat, back pain, etc.) were texted to patients twice daily over six weeks, none designed to influence the patient’s decision to seek care. We conducted focus groups to gain contextual information about participant decision-making. Descriptive statistics summarized responses to texts for each scenario. Qualitative analysis of open-ended text message responses and focus group discussions identified themes associated with decision-making for acute care needs.
Results: We received text survey responses from 18/20 recruited participants who responded to 72% (1092/1512) of the texted vignettes. In 48% of the vignettes, participants reported they would do nothing, for 34% of the vignettes participants reported they would seek care with a primary care provider, and 18% of responses reported they would seek ED care. Participants were not more likely to visit an ED during “off-hours.” Our qualitative findings showed: 1) patients don’t understand when care is needed; 2) patients don’t understand where they should seek care.
Conclusion: Participants were unclear when or where to seek care for common acute health problems, suggesting a need for patient education. Similar research is necessary in different populations and regarding the role of urgent care in acute care delivery. [West J Emerg Med. 2014;15(6):-0]