Emergency Department Utilization
In 2007, more than 20 percent of children had at least one visit to a hospital emergency department (ED). Children with family incomes below the poverty threshold ($21,203 for a family of four in 2007) were more likely than children with family incomes above the poverty threshold to have visited the ED. Just over 26 percent of children from low-income families made one to three ED visits during the year, compared to fewer than 18 percent of children from higher-income families. Similarly, 2.8 percent of children from low income families made four or more visits to the ED, compared to 1.1 percent of children from higher-income families.
Emergency department utilization also varies by age: 22.4 percent of children under 5 years of age made 1-3 visits to the ED in 2007, followed by children aged 15-17 years (20.3 percent). Children under 5 years of age were also the most likely to make 4 or more visits to the ED (2.7 percent), followed by children aged 5-9 years (1.0 percent). Racial/ethnic differences in utilization were also apparent, with non-Hispanic Black children most likely to make 1-3 and 4 or more visits to the ED (data not shown).
According to the 2006 National Hospital Ambulatory Medical Care Survey, the most common reason for a visit to the emergency department among children under 15 years of age was fever (15.1 percent), followed by cough (6.6 percent), and vomiting (5.5 percent). The most common primary diagnoses as the result of ED visits were acute upper respiratory infections (9.2 percent), otitis media (middle ear infection) and Eustachian tube disorders (6.6 percent), and fever of unknown origin (5.8 percent; data not shown).1
1 Pitts SR, Niska RW, Xu J, Burt CW. National Hospital Ambulatory Medical Care Survey: 2006 Emergency Department Summary. National Health Statistics Reports, No. 7; 2008 Aug.↑