Pediatric emergency department overcrowding: electronic medical record for identification of frequent, lower acuity visitors. Can we effectively identify patients for enhanced resource utilization?

J Emerg Med. 2009 Apr;36(3):311-6. doi: 10.1016/j.jemermed.2007.10.090. Epub 2008 Jul 26.


The objective of this study was to utilize the electronic medical record system to identify frequent lower acuity patients presenting to the Pediatric Emergency Department and to evaluate their impact on Pediatric Emergency Department overcrowding and resource utilization. The electronic medical records (EMR) of two pediatric emergency centers were reviewed from August 2002 to November 2004. Pediatric Emergency Department encounters that met any of the following criteria were classified as Visits Necessitating Pediatric Emergency Department care (VNEC): Disposition of admission, transfer or deceased; Intravenous fluids (IVF) or medications (excluding single antipyretic or antihistamine); Radiology or laboratory tests (excluding Rapid Strep); Fractures, dislocations, and febrile seizures. All other visits were classified as non-VNEC. ICD-9 (International Classification of Diseases, Ninth Revision) codes from the Pediatric Emergency Department encounters were defined as representing chronic or non-chronic conditions. Patients were then evaluated for utilization patterns, frequency of Emergency Department (ED) visits, chronic illness, and VNEC status. There were 153,390 patients identified, representing 255,496 visits (1.7 visits/patient, range 1-49). Overall, 189,998 visits (74%) required defined ED services and were categorized as VNEC, with the remaining 65,498 visits (26%) categorized as non-VNEC. With increasing visits, a steady decline in those requiring ED services was observed, with a plateau by visit six (VNEC 77% @ one visit, 64% @ six visits, p < 0.001). There were 141,765 patients seen fewer than four times, representing 92% of the patients and 74% of all visits (1.3 visits/patient, 225 visits/day). In contrast, 2664 patients disproportionately utilized the ED more than six times (maximum 49), representing 1.7% of patients and 9.8% of visits (9.4 visit/patient, 30 visits/day, p < 0.001). Excluding patients with chronic illness, 1074 patients also disproportionately utilized the ED more than six times (maximum 28), representing 0.7% of patients and 3.6% of visits (8.6 visit/patient, 11 visits/day, p < 0.001). While representing < 2% of patients, frequent lower acuity utilizers of ED services accounted for nearly 10% of all visits (30/day). Low acuity patients may require only limited additional marginal resources for their individual care. However, in aggregate, inefficiencies occur, especially when systems reach capacity constraints, at which point these patients utilize limited resources (manpower and space) that could more effectively be directed toward the more acutely ill and injured patients. Therefore, identification of these patients utilizing the electronic medical record will allow for targeted interventions of this subgroup to improve future resource allocation.

MeSH terms

  • Child
  • Child Health Services / economics
  • Child Health Services / statistics & numerical data*
  • Child, Preschool
  • Emergency Medical Services / economics
  • Emergency Medical Services / statistics & numerical data*
  • Emergency Service, Hospital / economics
  • Emergency Service, Hospital / statistics & numerical data*
  • Health Care Costs / statistics & numerical data
  • Health Care Surveys
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Medical Records*
  • Patient Admission / statistics & numerical data*
  • United States