Background: How patients fare once they leave the emergency department (ED) against medical advice (AMA), and the extent of illness burden that accompanies them, remains unstudied. Objective: To determine the fate of patients leaving the ED AMA for a defined period of time post-discharge. Methods: This was a prospective follow-up study of a convenience sample of patients leaving the ED AMA during two 6-month periods in consecutive calendar years at an urban academic ED with 32,000 annual patient visits. Results: A total of 199 patients were identified, with 194 enrolled. Categories of discharge diagnoses included cardiovascular, undifferentiated abdominal pain, respiratory, and cellulitis. Of the 194 patients studied, 126 patients (64.9%, 95% confidence interval [CI] 57.6–71.5%) stated that their symptoms had improved or resolved. Of these 126 patients, 109 (86.5%, 95% CI 78.9–91.7%) had their original AMA discharge diagnoses referable to cardiovascular pathology. Ninety-five patients (75.4%, 95% CI 66.7–82.4%) with improved or abated symptoms did not plan to return. Of those with improved or abated symptoms, 31 patients (24.6%, 95% CI 17.6–33.2%) did return, and with further evaluation, 15 of them were found to have significant clinical findings. Of the 68 patients with continuing symptoms, 36 (52.9%, 95% CI 40.5–64.9%) returned for further evaluation. A total of 127 patients did not return. Twenty-five patients (19.7%, 95% CI 15.9–25.4%) expressed a reluctance to return to the same ED for fear of embarrassment. Seven patients (5.5%, 95% CI 4.8–8.7%) who did not seek alternative care but were still having symptoms did not return due to job or family commitments or because they would follow-up with a personal physician. Conclusion: Patients who leave the ED AMA have significant pathology.
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Published online: January 25, 2010
Accepted: October 17, 2009
Received in revised form: September 25, 2009
Received: May 4, 2009
© 2011 Elsevier Inc. Published by Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.