Children Who Leave the Emergency Department Without Being Seen: Why Did They Leave and What Would Make Them Stay?

Rodrigo Sousa, Cátia Correia, Rita Valsassina, Sofia Moeda, Teresa Paínho, Paulo Oom


Introduction: Children who visit emergency departments and leave without being seen represent a multifactorial problem. We aimed to compare the sociodemographic characteristics of children who left and of those who did not leave, as well as to evaluate parental reasoning, subsequent use of medical care and patient outcome.
Material and Methods: This was a prospective case-control study of a random sample of children who left without being seen and their matched controls from an emergency department during a three-month period. We performed a phone questionnaire to obtain information concerning reasons for leaving, patient outcomes and general feedback.
Results: During the study period, 18 200 patients presented to the emergency department, of whom 92 (0.5%) left without being seen. Fifty-five (59.8%) completed the questionnaire and there were 82 controls. The most common reasons for leaving were ‘excessive waiting time’ (92.7%) and ‘problem could wait’ (21.8%). A significantly higher number of patients who left sought further medical care (78.2% vs 11%) but they did not experience higher levels of unfavourable outcomes.
Discussion: The waiting time seems to be the major factor that drives the decision to leave. The fact that parents felt safe in leaving and the low level of adverse outcomes highlights the low-acuity nature of the majority of patients who leave.
Conclusion: Reducing the waiting times may be the logical strategic mean to decrease the rates of patients who leave without being seen. However, our data seems to indicate that the concerns surrounding clinical outcome after leaving may be partly unwarranted.


Child; Emergency Service, Hospital; Outcome Assessment (Health Care); Patient Acceptance of Health Care; Patient Dropouts; Portugal; Waiting Lists

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