Patients who returned to the emergency department within 72 hours

Percentage of patients who visited an emergency department, left that emergency department, and then returned to an emergency department or urgent care centre within 72 hours. (see data dictionary)

What do you see?

  • Are there any trends over time at the hospital where you work or would be most likely to visit?
  • Are there differences in the number of returning patients between hospitals of the same type (e.g., Large Urban)?

Whether you’re a patient, provider, or health system administrator, thinking about why these differences might exist can start conversations and lead to solutions for improved quality of healthcare.

*Data courtesy of Alberta Health Services

Understanding “patients who returned to the emergency department within 72 hours”

Some patients may return to an emergency department within 72 hours (three days) of their original visit. These return visits may be either planned or unplanned.

For return visits that are planned, there could be a variety of reasons. For example, an emergency doctor asks a patient to return for an ultrasound test that was not readily available at the time of their initial visit. Or a doctor may want the patient to return so they can reassess their condition (e.g., the healing of a minor eye injury).

Unplanned return visits to the emergency department usually happen if a patients’ illness or injury gets worse.

Some of these return visits may be appropriate, while others may represent an inefficient use of healthcare system resources.

The more patients returning to the ED within 72 hours for whatever reason means more patients coming into the emergency department could impact time to see an emergency doctor, and affect total length of stay.

Results from May and June 2016 are not reported for the Northern Lights Regional Health Centre due to the forest fire that affected Fort McMurray and forced the closure of the Northern Lights Regional Health Centre.

Results for November 2019 to March 2020 are not available for the University of Alberta Hospital and the Stollery Children’s Hospital.

Results for Grande Prairie up to November 2021 reflect care provided at the Queen Elizabeth II Hospital. Results after November 2021 reflect care provided at Grande Prairie Regional Hospital.

The Health Quality Council of Alberta uses the Alberta Quality Matrix for Health as a way of organizing information and thinking around the complexity of the healthcare system. This measure can be used as input to assess the emergency department’s performance in these dimensions of quality:


Dimensions of Quality

  • Acceptability 
  • Accessibility 
  • Appropriateness 
  • Effectiveness 
  • Efficiency 
  • Safety