The use and overlap of AED and general practice services by patients registered at two inner London general practices

S Hull, I R Jones, K Moser, J Fisher
British Journal of General Practice 1998, 48 (434): 1575-9

BACKGROUND: The improvement of general practitioner (GP) availability has been suggested as a factor influencing the rise in attendance rates at accident and emergency departments (AEDs) in the United Kingdom, particularly in innercity areas. However, previous studies suggest that only 3-6% of patients attempt to contact their GP before attending the AED, and measures of the availability of appointments in the surgery are not associated with AED self-referral rates.

AIM: To examine the overlap of services between general practice and AEDs, and the characteristics of patients who attend at both sites.

METHOD: A prospective observational study, set in east London, of all AED attendances from two group practices located within two kilometers of the Royal London Hospital, over a seven month period in 1994.

RESULTS: Of 1785 attendances analysed, 80% were self referrals. Rates of hospital admission (18.1%) and outpatient referral (9.5%) reflect national figures. There was a significantly higher proportion of attendance from those of white ethnicity among children under 16. Using the Sheffield process-based classification, 43% of adult attendances were categorized as primary care attendances. Within this category the rate of attendance declined with age. Twenty-five point eight per cent of primary care attendances occurred between 10.00 pm and 8.00 am. Among self-referrals to the AED, 16% were seen by their GP in the previous two weeks for a similar problem. Frequent attendance at the AED was associated with a significantly higher consultation rate at the GP surgery (F = 19.6, df = 5, P < 0.0001). Less than 2% of attendances were recalled to the AED for follow-up. A minority (14%) of attendances resulted in a communication with the GP. The seven-month AED attendance rates for the two practices were significantly different (72 per 1000 (95% CI 67-78) and 111 per 1000 (95% CI 105-116), despite similar practice organization and markers of social deprivation.

CONCLUSIONS: AED attendance rates were below the national average. GP referral and admission rates to AEDs from inner urban practices mirror national rates. High rates of primary care attendance occurred in younger age groups, with more than expected occurring out of hours. The reduction in case follow-up within the AED must be supported by improvements in communication with GPs, and an expansion of practice-based nursing. Practices that are geographically close, and with similar sociodemographic features, may have different AED attendance rates. This has important implications for resource allocation in primary care.

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