Nonurgent pediatric emergency department visits: Care-seeking behavior and parental knowledge of insurance

Pediatr Emerg Care. 2003 Feb;19(1):10-4. doi: 10.1097/00006565-200302000-00003.


OBJECTIVES The goals of this study were to describe the factors associated with utilization of emergency services for nonurgent illnesses by insured children in a pediatric emergency department (PED) and to assess parental knowledge of their insurance and its influence on care-seeking behaviors. METHODS We conducted a prospective, descriptive survey of parents of insured children evaluated for nonurgent illnesses in an urban PED. RESULTS A total of 251 surveys were completed. The primary reason chosen by the parent for the PED visit was convenience in 62.8% of cases, a perceived true emergency in 33.6%, and lack of other access to a physician in 3.6%. Parents choosing the PED for perceived emergencies were more likely to state that the illness was life threatening or required hospital admission than those who came because of convenience (33/84 vs. 28/157; < 0.001). Only 38.7% stated that they were educated as to what problems are considered emergencies by their insurance carriers. PED referrals for nonurgent complaints are required by the insurance carrier for 74.9% of the population; however, only 37.2% of the parents stated that referrals were necessary. Primary care physician (PCP) contact was made prior to the visit by 45.4% of parents. Of those who called the PCP, 72.6% stated that they were referred to the PED. Of the parents who believed that a referral was required, those stating that the problem was an emergency were more likely to have contacted the PCP than those who came because of convenience (27/37 vs. 22/46; < P 0.037).CONCLUSIONS Parents frequently do not understand their insurance coverage as it relates to emergency care utilization. This lack of knowledge influences their care-seeking behaviors for nonurgent illnesses. Convenience is a significant factor in PED utilization for nonurgent complaints.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Child
  • Emergency Service, Hospital / statistics & numerical data*
  • Health Services Misuse*
  • Hospitals, Pediatric
  • Hospitals, Urban
  • Humans
  • Insurance, Health*
  • Motivation
  • Parents / psychology*
  • Patient Acceptance of Health Care*
  • Pediatrics
  • Primary Health Care / statistics & numerical data
  • Prospective Studies
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Virginia