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Acad Emerg Med. 2017 Feb;24(2):201-215. doi: 10.1111/acem.13125. Epub 2017 Jan 30.

The Transition of Care Between Emergency Department and Primary Care: A Scoping Study.

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Institute for Clinical Evaluative Sciences, University of Toronto, Toronto, ON, Canada.
Division of Emergency Medicine, University of Toronto, Toronto, ON, Canada.
Department of Medicine, University of Toronto, Toronto, ON, Canada.
Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre, Toronto, ON, Canada.
Institute of Health Policy, Management and Evaluation at the University of Toronto, Toronto, ON, Canada.



Patients with chronic diseases are often forced to seek emergency care for exacerbations. In the face of large predicted increases in the prevalence of chronic diseases, there is increased pressure to avoid hospitalizing these patients at the end of the ED visit, if they can obtain the care they need in the outpatient setting. We performed this scoping study to provide a broad overview of the published literature on the transition of care between ED and primary care following ED discharge.


We performed a MEDLINE search of English-language articles published between 1990 and March 2015. We created a data-charting form a priori of the search. Papers were organized into themes, with new themes created when none of the existing themes matched the paper. Papers with multiple themes were assigned preferentially to the theme that was consistent with their primary objectives. We created a descriptive numerical summary of the included studies.


Of 1,138 titles, there were 252 potentially relevant abstracts, and among those 122 met criteria for full paper review. An additional 11 papers were acquired from reference review. From the 133 papers, 85 were included in the study. The papers were categorized into seven themes. These included Follow-up compliance and its predictors (38 studies), Telephone calls to discharged ED patients (15 studies), ED navigators (14 studies), The current system (nine studies), Ways to alert primary care providers (PCPs) of the ED visit (seven studies), and Patient views and PCP information requirements (one each). In the Follow-up compliance and predictors theme, the two most frequently identified significant predictors for increasing the frequency of follow-up care were the provision of a follow-up appointment time prior to ED departure and the presence of health insurance. Follow-up telephone calls to patients resulted in better follow-up rates, but increased ED return visits in some studies. In the current system patients themselves are the conduit, and the barriers to follow-up care can be high. E-mail and/or electronic medical record alerts to the PCP are relatively new, and no studies limited the alerts to patients who had a defined need for follow-up care.


A plethora of work has been published on the transition of care from ED to primary care. To decrease hospitalizations among the upcoming wave of patients with chronic diseases, it appears that the two most efficient areas to target are a primary care follow-up appointment system and health insurance. Further research is needed in particular to identify the patients who actually need follow-up care and to develop information technology solutions that can be effectively implemented within the current emergency healthcare system.

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