Publication Date



frequent attender, health care utilization, emergency room, primary care, inpatient


Purpose: To decrease cost and improve efficiency, health care organizations have focused on frequent attenders — patients with high health care utilization. Prior studies have investigated singular health care settings, used varying definitions of frequent attendance, and inconsistently identified factors correlated with frequent attendance. The purpose of this article is to suggest a uniform definition of frequent attenders for different health care settings and to determine factors correlated with frequent attendance.

Methods: This systematic review of three databases identified 2761 unique articles; 174 met inclusion criteria. Studies were analyzed for their definition of frequent attenders and factors associated with frequent attendance.

Results: Most studies defined frequent attenders by number of health care visits within a set time period (n = 115) and top percentile cutoff (n = 42). Based on averages across studies, we propose the following frequent attender definitions: for primary care, either the top 10th percentile or at least 10 visits in 12 months; for emergency room, at least 5 visits in 12 months; and for inpatient hospitalization, at least 4 admissions in 12 months. Common factors correlated with frequent attendance were mental health and chronic disease.

Conclusions: We propose definitions of frequent attenders for three common health care settings: primary care, emergency room, and inpatient. Future studies should include mental health and chronic disease, among other factors, when studying this population. Adoption of these recommendations will allow comparisons across studies such that meta-analyses may better determine interventions for more appropriate health care utilization.

Table S1.pdf (86 kB)
Supplemental Table S1

Table S2.pdf (340 kB)
Supplemental Table S2

Table S3.pdf (147 kB)
Supplemental Table S3




January 20th, 2020


March 10th, 2020


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