Provider-Referred Versus Self-Referred Emergency Department Visit After Urgent Care Center Visit

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Background: Urgent care centers (UCCs) provide an alternative to emergency departments (EDs) for low-acuity acute care, as they are convenient with shorter wait time, but little is known about the quality of care at UCCs. Objective: We described and determined the differences in characteristics of patients who were sent to the ED by UCC physicians (provider-referred) with those of patients who went to the ED on their own (self-referred) within 72 h of discharge after a UCC visit. Our primary objective was to investigate whether observation unit use or hospital admission rates were different between the two groups. Our secondary objective was to identify whether their follow-up ED visits were avoidable. Methods: We conducted this prospective cohort study between March 22, 2017 and September 30, 2018 in a closed health system. A total of 53,178 UCC visits resulted in 582 provider-referred and 263 self-referred ED visits. We compared the characteristics of the two groups and measured the outcomes of observation unit or hospital admissions. Results: Patients with self-referred ED visits were younger; mean (standard deviation) age was 47.9 (24.5) years. Provider-referred patients appeared to be significantly associated with observation unit or hospital admission (odds ratio [OR] 1.75; 95% confidence interval [CI] 1.24–2.46). Among the predictors for observation unit or hospital admission, consultation with a specialist in the ED was the strongest (adjusted OR 9.09; 95% CI 6.24–13.24); other significant predictors were Medicaid or no insurance. Conclusions: We found that after an urgent care visit, patients who were sent to the ED by a UCC provider were not more likely than self-referred patients to be admitted to an observation unit or hospital from the ED. Significant predictors for observation unit or hospital admission after UCC discharge were specialist consultation and type of insurance.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)800-809
Number of pages10
JournalJournal of Emergency Medicine
Issue number6
StatePublished - Jun 2022


  • 72-h return visits
  • outpatient referral
  • urgent care


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