Unplanned return visits (URVs) to emergency departments (EDs) account internationally for 2.5% to 5.2% of all consultations. ED crowding is an increasing challenge, and URVs seem to contribute to this problem. This study aimed to assess factors for URVs at the ED of a tertiary children's hospital to analyze if they are jointly responsible for the steadily rising amount of treated patients.
All patients with an URV to a pediatric ED in Switzerland between January and December 2013 were included in the study. Data were taken retrospectively from the electronic patient files, and different variables were defined and analyzed.
URVs occurred at an incidence of 4.6%, and mostly concerned infants and toddlers (46%). URVs were independent of weekdays and mostly occurred between 10 AM and 10 PM. In 84.2% of the cases, the URVs were judged as unnecessary, and in 15.8%, a hospitalization was indicated, mainly for children with a worsening respiratory illness.
The occurrence of URVs in our ED was within the incidence reported in the literature. While URVs lead to hospitalization in some patients, the majority of URVs were unnecessary from a medical point of view. These results indicate that a correct evaluation of the child's health state by parents is often challenging and requires repeated medical attendance following a first ED visit, especially in infants with airway diseases and infections. Intensive counseling and scheduled short-term follow-up consultation at the pediatrician's office could prevent URVs to the ED.