Emergency Department Patients Who Leave Before Treatment Is Complete
Skip to main content
Open Access Publications from the University of California

Emergency Department Patients Who Leave Before Treatment Is Complete


Introduction: Emergency department (ED) patients who leave before treatment is complete (LBTC) represent medicolegal risk and lost revenue. We sought to examine LBTC return visits characteristics and potential revenue effects for a large healthcare system.

Methods: This retrospective, multicenter study examined all encounters from January 1–December 31, 2019 at 18 EDs. The LBTC patients were divided into left without being seen (LWBS), defined as leaving prior to completed medical screening exam (MSE), and left subsequent to being seen (LSBS), defined as leaving after MSE was complete but before disposition. We recorded 30-day returns by facility type including median return hours, admission rate, and return to index ED. Expected realization rate and potential charges were calculated for each patient visit. 

Results: During the study period 626,548 ED visits occurred; 20,158 (3.2%) LBTC index encounters occurred, and 6745 (33.5%) returned within 30 days. The majority (41.7%) returned in <24 hours with 76.1% returning in 10 days and 66.4% returning to index ED. Median return time was 43.3 hours, and 23.2% were admitted. Urban community EDs had the highest 30-day return rate (37.8%, 95% confidence interval, 36.41-39.1). Patients categorized as LSBS had longer median return hours (66.0) and higher admission rates (29.8%) than the LWBS cohort. There was a net potential realization rate of $9.5 million to the healthcare system.

Conclusion: In our system, LSBS patients had longer return times and higher admission rates than LWBS patients. There was significant potential financial impact for the system. Further studies should examine how healthcare systems can reduce risk and financial impacts of LBTC patients.

Main Content
For improved accessibility of PDF content, download the file to your device.
Current View