BMJ Open 4:e004746 doi:10.1136/bmjopen-2013-004746
  • General practice / Family practices
    • Research

Which features of primary care affect unscheduled secondary care use? A systematic review

  1. Sarah Purdy1
  1. 1School of Community & Social Medicine, Centre of Academic Primary Care, University of Bristol, Bristol, UK
  2. 2Department of Primary Care Health Sciences, University of Oxford, Oxford, UK
  3. 3Primary Care & Population Health, Royal Free Campus, London, UK
  4. 4Institute of Population Health, Centre for Primary Care, University of Manchester, Manchester, UK
  1. Correspondence to Sarah Purdy;sarah.purdy{at}
  • Received 30 December 2013
  • Revised 16 April 2014
  • Accepted 23 April 2014
  • Published 23 May 2014


Objectives To conduct a systematic review to identify studies that describe factors and interventions at primary care practice level that impact on levels of utilisation of unscheduled secondary care.

Setting Observational studies at primary care practice level.

Participants Studies included people of any age of either sex living in Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) countries with any health condition.

Primary and secondary outcome measures The primary outcome measure was unscheduled secondary care as measured by emergency department attendance and emergency hospital admissions.

Results 48 papers were identified describing potential influencing features on emergency department visits (n=24 studies) and emergency admissions (n=22 studies). Patient factors associated with both outcomes were increased age, reduced socioeconomic status, lower educational attainment, chronic disease and multimorbidity. Features of primary care affecting unscheduled secondary care were more complex. Being able to see the same healthcare professional reduced unscheduled secondary care. Generally, better access was associated with reduced unscheduled care in the USA. Proximity to healthcare provision influenced patterns of use. Evidence relating to quality of care was limited and mixed.

Conclusions The majority of research was from different healthcare systems and limited in the extent to which it can inform policy. However, there is evidence that continuity of care is associated with reduced emergency department attendance and emergency hospital admissions.

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