Making the decision to seek care for a non-urgent illness: A qualitative study

Anne Phyllis Manton, University of Rhode Island


The number of emergency department visits for non-urgent illnesses has reached 50 million a year in the United States. This is problematic from at least three perspectives: emergency care is problem-focused not comprehensive, it is expensive, and emergency departments are not designed to provide care to such large numbers of non-urgently ill people. Previous research has described the characteristics of frequent users of emergency services, and has investigated why the emergency department is selected for non-urgent care. The process that leads to the decision to seek care in the emergency department has not been explored.^ The purposes of this study were to explore to what extent there is a common process by which the decision is made to seek care for a non-urgent illness, and to examine the value of the self-regulatory model in describing that process. A qualitative approach, using modeled participant observation, and including in-depth interviewing, was the research method employed.^ Participants were adult men and women who had come to an emergency department for care of a non-urgent illness. After informed consent was elicited, participants were interviewed prior to seeing a physician and throughout their emergency department stay. They were asked to describe their present illness experience from the time symptoms were first noticed. Interview guidelines, developed in accordance with the components of the self-regulatory model as described by Leventhal, were used to clarify or elicit additional data.^ Participant demographics were found to be consistent with those of other studies of this population. A common process, including eight factors, leading to the decision to seek care for a non-urgent illness was delineated from the descriptions of the participants. Although results demonstrated consistency with the assumptions, principles, and specific components of the self-regulatory model, areas for refinement are recommended.^ This research provides a basis for understanding the illness experience of the non-urgently ill patient and the reasons for which care is sought. Additional research is recommended to determine the broader applicability of the findings identified in this study. ^

Subject Area

Psychology, Behavioral|Health Sciences, Nursing|Health Sciences, Health Care Management

Recommended Citation

Anne Phyllis Manton, "Making the decision to seek care for a non-urgent illness: A qualitative study" (1994). Dissertations and Master's Theses (Campus Access). Paper AAI9526568.