Objective: To explore reasons for attending a general emergency outpatient clinic versus a regular general practitioner (RGP).
Design: Cross-sectional study using a multilingual anonymous questionnaire.
Setting: Native and immigrant walk-in patients attending a general emergency outpatient clinic in Oslo (Monday–Friday, 08:00–23:00) during 2 weeks in September 2009.
Subjects: We included 1022 walk-in patients: 565 native Norwegians (55%) and 457 immigrants (45%).
Main outcome measures: Patients’ reasons for attending an emergency outpatient clinic versus their RGP.
Results: Among patients reporting an RGP affiliation, 49% tried to contact their RGP before this emergency encounter: 44% of native Norwegian and 58% of immigrant respondents. Immigrants from Africa [odds ratio (OR) = 2.55 (95% confidence interval [CI]: 1.46–4.46)] and Asia [OR = 2.32 (95% CI: 1.42–3.78)] were more likely to contact their RGP before attending the general emergency outpatient clinic compared with native Norwegians. The most frequent reason for attending the emergency clinic was difficulty making an immediate appointment with their RGP. A frequent reason for not contacting an RGP was lack of access: 21% of the native Norwegians versus 4% of the immigrants claimed their RGP was in another district/municipality, and 31% of the immigrants reported a lack of affiliation with the RGP scheme.
Conclusions and implications: Access to primary care provided by an RGP affects patients’ use of emergency health care services. To facilitate continuity of health care, policymakers should emphasize initiatives to improve access to primary health care services.
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