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Virtual care use prior to emergency department admissions during a stable COVID-19 period in Ontario, Canada


Background — The increased use of telemedicine to provide virtual outpatient visits during the pandemic has led to concerns about potential increased emergency department (ED) admissions and outpatient service use prior to such admissions. We examined the frequency of virtual visits use prior to ED admissions and characterized the patients with prior virtual visit use and the physicians who provided these outpatient visits.

Methods — We conducted a retrospective, population-based, cross-sectional analysis using linked health administrative data in Ontario, Canada to identify patients who had an ED admission between July 1 and September 30, 2021 and patients with an ED admissions during the same period in 2019. We grouped patients based on their use of outpatient services in the 7 days prior to admission and reported their sociodemographic characteristics and healthcare utilization.

Results — There were 1,080,334 ED admissions in 2021 vs. 1,113,230 in 2019. In 2021, 74% of these admissions had no prior outpatient visits (virtual or in-person) within 7 days of admission, compared to 75% in 2019. Only 3% of ED admissions had both virtual and in-person visits in the 7 days prior to ED admission. Patients with prior virtual care use were more likely to be hospitalized than those without any outpatient care (13% vs 7.7.%).

Interpretation — The net amount of ED admissions and outpatient care prior to admission remained the same over a period of the COVID-19 pandemic when cases were relatively stable. Virtual care seemed to be able to appropriately triage patients to the ED and virtual visits replaced in-person visits ahead of ED admissions, as opposed to being additive.



Stamenova V, Chu C, Borgundvaag E, Fleury C, Brual J, Bhattacharyya O, Tadrous M. PLoS One. 2023; 18(4):e0277065. Epub 2023 Apr 28.

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