Barriers to accessing primary care, including lack of transportation and inadequate appointment times, are common reasons for non-urgent emergency department (ED) use yet even when these barriers are addressed, the problem persists. This study explored non-urgent ED use by Medicaid enrollees through interviews with patients and providers and sought to identify themes beyond the commonly mentioned logistical and access issues. Qualitative interviews with 23 Medicaid enrollees and 31 PCP and ED providers utilizing a semi-structured interview guide focused on reasons for seeking care in the ED and issues associated with PCP appointments. We identified overlap as well as surprising differences in themes identified by providers and by patients. Providers identified cultural and educational issues including that many Medicaid patients had grown up using the ED as their main source of care and lacked awareness of other sources healthcare. Patients did not mention educational and cultural factors directly, but discussed a concern that their condition was too serious for the PCP, or that the ED provided more comprehensive services. Both patients and providers raised neglected concepts, particularly those related to understanding primary care compared to emergency care. These results highlight the importance of addressing multiple paths toward more appropriate ED use, including barriers beyond logistical and access-related concerns. Considering the patient’s perception of the situation, as well as identifying opportunities to improve patients’ understanding of where to seek care may help to create interventions with broader impact than those that address access and logistical barriers alone.

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