More Pediatric Patients Using Emergency Departments for Non-Emergency Situations

The number of pediatric patients visiting emergency departments increased more than 40% during a recent 10-year period, according to study of patients in the United Kingdom.

The retrospective review of electronic patient records involved data from children presenting at a pediatric emergency department in the United Kingdom. Researchers compared a cohort of 39,394 children aged 0 years to 15 years old who visited emergency departments between Feb. 7, 2007, and Feb. 6, 2008, with a cohort of 38,982 children from a period 10 years earlier.

The researchers collected data on presenting problems and source of referral, in addition to demographic information. The presenting problems were ranked and compared with data from the previous cohort.

There were 14,724 medical-related visits in the recent cohort and 10,369 medical-related visits in the 1997 cohort. This was an increase of 42%, according to the results.

The 10 most common presenting problems accounted for 85% of emergency department visits. The most frequently observed problems included:

· Breathing difficulty (20.1%);

· Febrile illness (14.1%);

· Diarrhea with or without vomiting (14%);

· Rash (8.6%); and

· Cough (6.7%).

Similar proportions of presenting problems were observed in the 1997 cohort. The researchers noted, however, significantly fewer patients visited emergency departments with breathing problems 10 years previously.

“These results suggest the increasing utilization of [emergency departments] ED services for children with common medical presenting problems,” the researchers wrote. The results “should inform further research exploring the pathways for attendance and the thresholds in seeking medical advice in order to inform the commissioning of pediatric emergency and urgent care services.”

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