Unseen patterns of preventable emergency care: Emergency department visits for ambulatory care sensitive conditions

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Objective: Admissions for ambulatory care sensitive conditions (ACSCs) are often used to measure potentially preventable emergency care. Visits to emergency departments with ACSCs may also be preventable care but are excluded from such measures if patients are not admitted. We established the extent and composition of this preventable emergency care. Methods: We analysed 1,505,979 emergency department visits (5% of the national total) between 1 April 2015 and 31 March 2017 at six hospital Trusts in England, using International Classification of Diseases diagnostic coding. We calculated the number of visits for each ACSC and examined the proportions of these visits that did not result in admission by condition and patient characteristics. Results: 11.1% of emergency department visits were for ACSCs. 55.0% of these visits did not result in hospital admission. Whilst the majority of ACSC visits were for acute rather than chronic conditions (59.4% versus 38.4%), acute visits were much more likely to conclude without admission (70.3% versus 33.4%). Younger, more deprived and ethnic minority patients were less likely to be admitted when they visited the emergency department with an ACSC. Conclusions: Over half of preventable emergency care is not captured by measures of admissions. The probability of admission at a preventable visit varies substantially between conditions and patient groups. Focussing only on admissions for ACSCs provides an incomplete and skewed picture of the types of conditions and patients receiving preventable care. Measures of preventable emergency care should include visits in addition to admissions.

Original languageEnglish
JournalJournal of Health Services Research and Policy
Early online date7 Feb 2022
Publication statusPublished - 2022


  • ambulatory care sensitive conditions
  • international classification of diseases coding
  • preventable emergency care


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