Cover: Exploring Which Patients Use Their Closest Emergency Departments Using Geocoded Data

Exploring Which Patients Use Their Closest Emergency Departments Using Geocoded Data

Published in: The Journal of Emergency Medicine (2023). doi: 10.1016/j.jemermed.2023.05.007

Posted on Sep 18, 2023

by Anagha Alka Tolpadi, Marc N. Elliott, Kirsten Becker, William Lehrman, Debra S. Stark, Layla Parast


Each year, roughly 20% of U.S. adults visit an emergency department (ED), but little is known about patients’ choice of ED.


Examine the discretion patients have to choose among EDs, characteristics associated with ED choice, and relationship between ED choice and self-reported care experiences of ED patients.


We surveyed adult patients discharged to the community (DTC) in January–March 2018 from 16 geographically dispersed hospital-based EDs, geocoded patient and hospital-based ED addresses within 100 miles of patient addresses, and calculated travel distances. We examined the likelihood of visiting the closest ED based on patient and ED characteristics. Linear regression models examined the association of choosing the closest ED with seven measures of patient experience of care (scaled 0–100), adjusting for patient characteristics.


43.6% of 4647 responding patients visited the ED nearest their home (on average, 5.7 miles away). Patients who chose a farther ED had more urgent conditions, were more educated, and were less likely to be non-Hispanic White. They were significantly more likely to have visited an ED in a higher-rated, metropolitan, network hospital with major teaching status, a cardiac intensive care unit, and a certified trauma center. Patients who chose a farther ED were more likely to recommend that ED, with “medium-to-large” differences in scores (+4.3% more selected “definitely yes”, p < 0.05).


Fewer than half of patients visited the closest ED. Patients who chose a farther ED tended to seek higher-rated hospitals and report more favorable experiences.

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