Reasons for patients with non-urgent conditions attending the emergency department in Kenya: A qualitative study

Document Type



Emergency Medicine (East Africa); Family Medicine (East Africa)


Introduction: Scant literature exists on the non-urgent use of emergency departments in Sub-Saharan Africa and its effects on the provision of effective emergency care services. With the surge in the prevalence of non- communicable diseases compounded by an already prevailing significant problem of communicable diseases and injuries in this setting, there has been a rising demand for emergency care services. This has led to ED overcrowding, increased healthcare costs, extended waiting periods and overstretched essential services. The main objective of this study was to determine why patients visit the ED for non-urgent care.

Methods: A descriptive qualitative study was conducted at a tertiary university hospital ED in Nairobi, Kenya. Purposive sampling was used to select patients triaged as less urgent or non-urgent. In-depth interviews were conducted until thematic saturation was achieved. The interviews were audio recorded, transcribed verbatim and analyzed thematically.

Results: Thematic saturation was reached after interviewing twenty-four patients. The obtained data was dis-cussed under three main themes: (1) reasons why patients visited the ED for non-urgent care, (2) patients un-derstanding of the roles of the ED, and (3) patients’ perceptions about the urgency of their medical conditions. Several factors were identified as contributing to the non-urgent use of the ED including positive experiences during past visits, a perception of availability of better services and the closure of other departments after office- hours and on weekends. It was found that non-urgent ED visits occurred despite most patients having an un-derstanding of the role of the ED as an appropriate location for the treatment of patients with life threatening conditions.

Conclusion: This study highlights several reasons why patients with non-urgent medical conditions seek care in the ED despite being able to correctly identify its purpose within the national emergency care framework. Regular patient education regarding which conditions warrant ED attendance and alternative sites of care for non-urgent conditions could potentially help reduce ED patient numbers.

Publication (Name of Journal)

African Journal of Emergency Medicine