Objectives: To determine the best predictors of the amount of children's health care use.
Research design: Child health, psychosocial, and family status variables were collected. Families were then followed prospectively for 2 years to gather health care use data. Multivariate regression analysis was used to determine factors related to volume of child health care use.
Subjects: 367 mothers and children ages 5 to 11 years continuously enrolled in a staff model HMO.
Measures: Child health care visits obtained from a computerized database comprised the dependent variable. Independent variables were organized into a 5-component framework including: Demographic Characteristics; Family Characteristics; Child Health and Prior Health Care Use; Child Behavior and Mental Health; and Mothers' Mental Health and Health Care Use.
Results: The volume of a child's past health care use was the best predictor of future health care use, with the presence of past acute recurring illnesses, child pain and mother's retrospective health care use also serving as significant predictors in the model. Analysis of a second model was conducted omitting children's past use of health care. In this model the mother's worry about child health was the best predictor of use, with child health and child and maternal psychosocial variables significantly contributing to explained variance in the model.
Conclusions: This study supports prior research indicating past use is the best predictor of future health care use. In addition, the study suggests that maternal perceptions of child health and maternal emotional functioning influence the decision-making process involved in seeking health care on behalf of children. Effective management of pediatric health care use needs to address broader needs of the child and family beyond solely the child's health, most notably maternal functioning.