Objectives: To investigate differences in numbers and characteristics of patients using primary or emergency care because of differences in organisation of out of hours care.
Background: Increasing numbers of self referrals at the accident and emergency (A&E) department cause overcrowding, while a substantial number of these patients exhibit minor injuries that can be treated by a general practitioner (GP).
Methods: Two different organisations of out of hours care in two Dutch cities (Heerlen and Maastricht) were investigated. Important differences between the two organisations are the accessibility and the location of primary care facility (GP cooperative). The Heerlen GP cooperative is situated in the centre of the city and is respectively 5 km and 9 km away from the two A&E departments situated in the area of Heerlen. This GP cooperative can only be visited by appointment. The Maastricht GP cooperative has free access and is located within the local A&E department. During a three week period all registration forms of patient contacts with out of hours care (GP cooperative and A&E department) were collected and with respect to the primary care patients a random sample of one third was analysed.
Results: For the Heerlen and Maastricht GP cooperative the annual contact rate, as extrapolated from our data, per 1000 inhabitants per year is 238 and 279 respectively (χ2(1df)=4.385, p=0.036). The contact rate at the A&E departments of Heerlen (n=66) and Maastricht (n=52) is not different (χ2(1df)=1.765, p=0.184). Some 51.7% of the patients attending the A&E department in Heerlen during out of hours were self referred, compared with 15.9% in Maastricht (χ2(1df)=203.13, p<0.001).
Conclusions: The organisation of out of hours care in Maastricht has optimised the GP’s gatekeeper function and thereby led to fewer self referrals at the A&E department, compared with Heerlen.
- general practitioner
- out of hours
- emergency care
- primary care
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