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J Emerg Med. 2019 Jul;57(1):106-113. doi: 10.1016/j.jemermed.2019.03.051. Epub 2019 May 8.

Patients Who Leave the Emergency Department Without Being Seen and Their Follow-Up Behavior: A Retrospective Descriptive Analysis.

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University of California, San Diego School of Medicine, La Jolla, California.
Department of Emergency Medicine, University of California, San Diego, San Diego, California.



Past studies suggest that patients who leave without being seen (LWBS) by a physician from a hospital's emergency department (ED) represent a quality and safety concern, and thus LWBS rates have often been used as an ED performance metric. There are few recent studies, however, that have examined the characteristics of the LWBS population at hospitals in the United States.


This study describes the LWBS population at a multi-hospital academic health system.


This was a retrospective study of electronic medical record data from EDs at two academic hospitals with a shared patient population that analyzed all LWBS visits during the 45-month period between July 2012 and March 2016. Demographic and clinical variables, including patient characteristics, chief complaint, acuity, and evidence of ongoing medical care, were assessed.


During the study period, 2.4% of patients presenting to the study EDs left without being seen. This population tended to have lower-acuity chief complaints and nearly triple the number of ED visits as the general ED patient; 7.8% sought follow-up care from outpatient clinics and 24.8% returned to the ED within 7 days. Of this latter group, 11.5% were subsequently admitted for inpatient care, representing 0.068% of the total ED census during the study period.


LWBS patients are high ED utilizers who may be effectively targeted by "hotspotting." Our 11.5% admission rate at return after LWBS compares favorably with the overall 20.9% admission rate at the study EDs and represents a small minority of all LWBS visits. Given the paucity of return ED visits after interval clinic encounters, our data suggest that patients who were seen in clinic had their medical complaint adequately resolved on a non-emergent outpatient basis, and that increased LWBS rates may reflect poor access to timely clinic-based care rather than intrinsic systemic issues within the ED.


LWBS; emergency department; left without being seen; re-presentation; triage

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