Stephen L. Ristvedt, Ph.D. Associate Professor of Anesthesiology Washington University St. Louis, MO  63110-1093

What Kind of Personality Goes to the Emergency Room Often? Interview with:

Stephen L. Ristvedt, Ph.D. Associate Professor of Anesthesiology Washington University St. Louis, MO  63110-1093

Dr. Ristvedt

Stephen L. Ristvedt, Ph.D.
Associate Professor of Anesthesiology
Washington University
St. Louis, MO  63110-1093 What is the background for this study?

Response: Having a usual source of healthcare – either with a regular doctor or a medical clinic – is the best way to manage one’s health in a proactive way.  Doctors and clinics can provide ongoing guidance with regard to the use of preventive medical screenings as well as the management of chronic illness.  Unfortunately, a significant proportion of US adults do not have a usual source of healthcare.  Also, many people often rely for their healthcare needs on a hospital emergency department, where there is neither sufficient continuity of care nor counseling for prevention.

We wanted to investigate what factors might contribute to suboptimal utilization of healthcare resources.  We were particularly interested in looking at individual psychological factors that might play a role in the choices that people make when seeking healthcare.  One specific psychological characteristic proved to be important in our study.  That characteristic is called “threat sensitivity,” and it is measured with a simple questionnaire.  People who are relatively high in threat sensitivity are prone to experience high levels of anxiety in potentially threatening situations What are the main findings?

Response: In our study people who were high in threat sensitivity were more likely to go to the emergency room for their care.  On the other end of the spectrum, people who are relatively low in threat sensitivity tend to be less worried about health-related issues and more likely to take risks with their own health.  In our study, those people tended not to have any usual source of healthcare. What should readers take away from your report?

Response: Our study demonstrated that certain individual characteristics – in this case threat sensitivity – can have an influence on the decisions that people make about seeking care for their health.  This association had not previously been studied.  Unsurprisingly, we also found that older people and those with more health conditions are more likely to have a regular source of healthcare such as a doctor or medical clinic.  However, the results of our study provide added information that could help us to understand how people make these important decisions. What recommendations do you have for future research as a result of this work? 

Response: The participants in our study were all African American males, which could have introduced some bias in our results.  Therefore, future research should entail the recruitment of participants from a broader range of demographic characteristics, including females and people from other racial/ethnic backgrounds.  Also, future studies should delve more deeply into the reasons that people give for their decisions related to specific healthcare visits.

Lastly, future research could use our findings to design and test targeted health marketing campaigns to promote wider use of appropriate healthcare resources.  

No disclosures 


Threat sensitivity is associated with the healthcare source used most often: doctor’s office, emergency room, or none at all

Stephen [email protected], Kathryn Trinkaus, Erika Waters, Aimee James

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Last Updated on June 3, 2019 by Marie Benz MD FAAD