Objectives: To describe the demographics, referral mechanism and outcome of the emergency consultation in patients presenting to a secondary hospital emergency centre (EC).
Design: An observational study of patients presenting to an EC in a 1-month period from 19 November to 20 December 2007.
Setting: New Somerset Hospital, Cape Town, South Africa.
Subjects: All patients presenting alive to the EC during the study period who were seen by an EC doctor.
Outcome measures: A data collection form was completed by EC doctors at the time of the initial EC consultation documenting patient demographics, time and delay periods, South African Triage Score (SATS), initial diagnosis, transport and referral mechanisms and outcome of EC consultation.
Results: Data on 2646 patient presentations were described with a mix of SATS acuity levels (green: routine care; yellow: urgent; orange: very urgent; red: immediate), with more than one-third of presentations scoring an orange or red SATS. Most patients presented in the daytime, with an increase in more ill patients (higher SATS) later in the day and at night. The peak age group was 20–40 years, with 39% resident in informal settlements within 15 km of the hospital. The initial diagnosis was trauma in 26% of presentations, with a wide spread of other presentations. Patients were transported by ambulance to the EC in 39% of presentations, 41% were self-referred and 41% were referred by a primary health care practitioner. Fifty-three percent of presentations were either admitted to hospital or kept in the EC for further investigations, and the remainder were discharged from the EC.
Conclusions: Clear trends are seen for patient demographics and temporal attendance patterns which are important for resource allocation and planning. Many low-acuity patients, largely non-referred, are being seen in the EC and should be managed by primary health care level staff outside the EC.
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Funding All costs were borne by the University of Cape Town.
Competing interests None.
Ethics approval The study was approved by the University of Cape Town ethics committee. Patient confidentiality was maintained by secure storage of questionnaires, use of an anonymous coding system and restricted access to the database.
Provenance and Peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.