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Non-urgent accident and emergency department use as a socially shared custom: a qualitative study

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Beache, Simone Keizer 
Guell, Cornelia 


Objective We explored attitudes of non-urgent accident and emergency department (AED) patients in the middle-income healthcare setting Saint Vincent and the Grenadines (SVG) in the Caribbean to understand how and why they decide to seek emergency care and resist using primary care facilities.

Methods In 2013, we conducted 12 semistructured interviews with a purposive sample of non-urgent AED users from a variety of social backgrounds. Verbatim transcripts were analysed with a grounded theory approach.

Results In this study, we found, first, that participants automatically chose to visit the AED and described this as a locally shared custom. Second, the healthcare system in SVG reinforced this habitual use of the AED, for example, by health professionals routinely referring non-urgent cases to the AED. Third, there was also some deliberate use; patients took convenience and the systemic encouragement into account to determine that the AED was the most appropriate choice for healthcare.

Conclusions We conclude that the attitudes and habits of the Vincentian non-urgent patient are major determinants of their AED use and are intricately linked to local, socially shared practices of AED use. Findings show that health services research should reconsider rational choice behaviour models and further explore customs of health-seeking.


This is the final published version. It first appeared at


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Emergency Medicine Journal

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CG was supported by the Medical Research Council.