Objective: This qualitative study explored the parental attitudes, perceptions and beliefs that play a role in the use of a tertiary paediatric emergency department (PED) when a child has a non-urgent illness.
Method: Semi-structured, in-depth interviews of 25 parents of children with non-urgent illnesses were conducted in the waiting room of a tertiary PED in Western Sydney in 1998. Inductive analysis was used to identify dominant themes.
Results: Parents used their own system of triage to choose the appropriate service for their sick child. The perceived expertise of the tertiary PED, access and parental expectations all appeared to be major factors in parental use of a PED.
Conclusions: The parental choice to attend a PED is a dynamic, complex and unique process and the parental views that underpin this process often diverge from those of health professionals about the most 'appropriate' use of a PED.
Implications: A clearer understanding by health professionals of the factors influencing parental choice will promote more effective collaboration with parents and ultimately assist in the decision on the best management option for sick children.