Determinants of Emergency Department Use

Are Race and Ethnicity Important?

Published in: Annals of Emergency Medicine, v. 28, No. 6, Dec 1996, p. 677-682

Posted on RAND.org on January 01, 1996

by David P. Baker, Carl Stevens, Robert H. Brook

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STUDY OBJECTIVE: To determine whether race/ethnicity is an important determinant of emergency department use. METHODS: We conducted a cross-sectional survey in a public ED to determine self-reported ED visits over the preceding 3 months. The study group comprised consecutive ambulatory patients (N = 1,049) with nonemergency medical problems. RESULTS: Blacks, whites, and Hispanics were equally likely to report one or more visits to an ED in the 3 months before study enrollment. Blacks were the most likely to report two or more ED visits in the preceding 3 months (19.0%), followed by whites (13.5%) and Hispanics (11.4%) (P = .01; unadjusted odds ratio, 1.82 for blacks versus Hispanics). In multivariate analysis, older age (P < .001), health insurance coverage (P < .001), regular source of care (P < .001), and difficulty obtaining transportation to a physician's office (P = .011) were positively associated with two or more previous ED visits. After adjustment for these variables, race/ethnicity was not significantly associated with ED use (P = .23; adjusted odds ratio for blacks versus Hispanics, 1.48 [95% confidence interval, .95 to 2.30]). CONCLUSION: Race/ethnicity was not an important determinant of ED use after adjustment for age, health insurance coverage, regular source of care, and barriers to health care. Population-based studies of ED use should be conducted to further evaluate whether racial/ethnic differences in ED use exist that are not explained by differences in demographics, health, socioeconomic status, access to care, or other determinants of ED use.

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