Patterns in emergency department unscheduled return visits during the COVID-19 pandemic

Garrett S. Thompson, Robert P. Olympia

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Introduction: Fear surrounding nosocomial infections, expanded telehealth, and decreases in ED (emergency department) utilization altered the way patients sought emergency care during the COVID pandemic. This study aims to evaluate COVID-19's impact on the frequency and characteristics of unscheduled return visits (URVs) to the adult and pediatric ED. Methods: In this retrospective cohort study, the electronic medical record was used to identify ≤9-day URVs at a tertiary adult and pediatric ED from 4/16/19–2/29/20 (control) and 4/16/20–2/28/21 (COVID). The primary outcome, proportion of total ED visits made up by URVs, and secondary outcomes, patient characteristics (age), illness acuity (emergency severity index (ESI)), disposition, and mortality were compared between the cohorts. Pediatric and adult data were analyzed separately. A sub-analysis was performed to exclude patients with suspected respiratory infections. Results: For adults, n = 4265, there was no significant difference between the proportion of ED census made up by URVs (4.56% (control) vs 4.76% (COVID), p = 0.17), mean patient age (46.33 (control) vs 46.18 (COVID), p = 0.80), ESI acuity (2.95 (control) vs 2.95 (COVID), p = 0.83), disposition (admission 0.32% (control) vs 0.39% (COVID), p = 0.69), and mortality (0.23% (control) and 0.49% (COVID), p = 0.15). When excluding possible respiratory infections comparisons remained insignificant. For pediatrics, n = 1214, there was a significant difference in the proportion of ED census made up by URVs (4.83% (control) to 3.55% (COVID), p < 0.01), age (5.52 (control) vs 6.43 (COVID), p = 0.01), and ESI acuity (3.31 (control) vs 3.17 (COVID), p < 0.01). There was no difference in disposition (admission 0.12% (control) vs 0% (COVID), p = 1). When excluding possible respiratory infections acuity (p = 0.03) remained significant. Conclusion: In the adult population, COVID did not significantly alter any of our outcomes. For pediatric patients, a decrease in the proportion of URVs and increase in acuity during COVID suggests that patients may have had other means of accessing care, avoided the ED, received more adequate care at initial presentation, or represented when more acutely ill.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)126-130
Number of pages5
JournalAmerican Journal of Emergency Medicine
StatePublished - Aug 2022

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Emergency Medicine


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