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Objective: To examine the epidemiology of pediatric patient visits to emergency departments (ED).

Methods: We conducted a cross-sectional study of pediatric ED visits at the participating Pediatric Emergency Care Applied Research Network (PECARN) hospitals in 2002. We provide descriptive characteristics of pediatric ED visits and a comparison of the study database to the National Hospital Ambulatory Medical Care Survey (NHAMCS). Bivariate analyses were calculated to assess characteristics associated with hospital admission, death in the ED, and length of ED visit. We also performed multivariate regression to model the likelihood of admission to the hospital.

Results: Mean patient age was 6.2 years; 53.5% were boys; 47.5% black; and 43.2% had Medicaid insurance. The most common ED diagnoses were fever, upper respiratory infection, asthma, otitis media, and viral syndromes. The inpatient admission rate was 11.6%. The most common diagnoses requiring hospitalization were asthma, dehydration, fever, bronchiolitis, and pneumonia. In multivariate analysis, patients who were black or Hispanic, had Medicaid insurance or were uninsured, or were older than 1 year were less likely to be hospitalized. Demographics of the PECARN population were similar to NHAMCS, with notable exceptions of a larger proportion of black patients and of admitted patients from the PECARN EDs.

Conclusion: We describe previously unavailable epidemiological information about childhood illnesses and injuries that can inform development of future studies on the effectiveness, outcomes, and quality of emergency medical services for children. Most pediatric ED patients in our study sought care for infectious causes or asthma and were discharged from the ED. Hospital admission rate differed according to age, payer type, race/ethnicity, and diagnosis.

(C) 2006 Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, Inc.