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Upstreamist leaders: how risk factors for unscheduled return visits (URV) to the emergency department can inform integrated healthcare

Martha Zuluaga Quintero (Department of Emergency Medicine, Doncaste and Bassetlaw Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, Doncaster, UK)
Buddhike Sri Harsha Indrasena (Institute for Quality Improvement, World Academy of Medical Leadership, Sheffield, UK and Department of General Surgery, Provincial General Hospital, Badulla, Sri Lanka)
Lisa Fox (Health Informatics Department, Rotherham NHS Foundation Trust, Rotherham, UK)
Prakash Subedi (Department of Emergency Medicine, Doncaster and Bassetlaw Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, Institute of Medicine, QiMET International, Doncaster, UK, and)
Jill Aylott (Institute for Quality Improvement, World Academy of Medical Leadership, Sheffield, UK and Institute of Medicine, QiMET Medical Institute (QMI), QiMET International Ltd., Sheffield, UK)

Leadership in Health Services

ISSN: 1751-1879

Article publication date: 29 December 2022




This paper aims to report on research undertaken in an National Health Service (NHS) emergency department in the north of England, UK, to identify which patients, with which clinical conditions are returning to the emergency department with an unscheduled return visit (URV) within seven days. This paper analyses the data in relation to the newly introduced Integrated Care Boards (ICBs). The continued upward increase in demand for emergency care services requires a new type of “upstreamist”, health system leader from the emergency department, who can report on URV data to influence the development of integrated care services to reduce further demand on the emergency department.


Patients were identified through the emergency department symphony data base and included patients with at least one return visit to emergency department (ED) within seven days. A sample of 1,000 index visits between 1 January 2019–31 October 2019 was chosen by simple random sampling technique through Excel. Out of 1,000, only 761 entries had complete data in all variables. A statistical analysis was undertaken using Poisson regression using NCSS statistical software. A review of the literature on integrated health care and its relationship with health systems leadership was undertaken to conceptualise a new type of “upstreamist” system leadership to advance the integration of health care.


Out of all 83 variables regressed with statistical analysis, only 12 variables were statistically significant on multi-variable regression. The most statistically important factor were patients presenting with gynaecological disorders, whose relative rate ratio (RR) for early-URV was 43% holding the other variables constant. Eye problems were also statistically highly significant (RR = 41%) however, clinically both accounted for just 1% and 2% of the URV, respectively. The URV data combined with “upstreamist” system leadership from the ED is required as a critical mechanism to identify gaps and inform a rationale for integrated care models to lessen further demand on emergency services in the ED.

Research limitations/implications

At a time of significant pressure for emergency departments, there needs to be a move towards more collaborative health system leadership with support from statistical analyses of the URV rate, which will continue to provide critical information to influence the development of integrated health and care services. This study identifies areas for further research, particularly for mixed methods studies to ascertain why patients with specific complaints return to the emergency department and if alternative pathways could be developed. The success of the Esther model in Sweden gives hope that patient-centred service development could create meaningful integrated health and care services.

Practical implications

This research was a large-scale quantitative study drawing upon data from one hospital in the UK to identify risk factors for URV. This quality metric can generate important data to inform the development of integrated health and care services. Further research is required to review URV data for the whole of the NHS and with the new Integrated Health and Care Boards, there is a new impetus to push for this metric to provide robust data to prioritise the need to develop integrated services where there are gaps.


To the best of the authors’ knowledge, this is the first large-scale study of its kind to generate whole hospital data on risk factors for URVs to the emergency department. The URV is an important global quality metric and will continue to generate important data on those patients with specific complaints who return back to the emergency department. This is a critical time for the NHS and at the same time an important opportunity to develop “Esther” patient-centred approaches in the design of integrated health and care services.



The authors acknowledge Mr. Duncun Carrott from the informatics team at Doncaster and Bassetlaw Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust and the Clinical Governance Team who supported this work.


Zuluaga Quintero, M., Indrasena, B.S.H., Fox, L., Subedi, P. and Aylott, J. (2022), "Upstreamist leaders: how risk factors for unscheduled return visits (URV) to the emergency department can inform integrated healthcare", Leadership in Health Services, Vol. ahead-of-print No. ahead-of-print.



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