Physicians' assessment of pediatric returns to the Emergency Department

J Emerg Med. 2013 Mar;44(3):682-8. doi: 10.1016/j.jemermed.2012.05.011. Epub 2012 Jul 19.


Background: Return visits to the Emergency Department (ED) requiring admission are frequently reviewed for the purpose of quality improvement. Treating physicians typically perform this review, but it is unclear if they accurately identify the reasons for the returns.

Objectives: To assess the characteristics of pediatric return visits to the ED, and the ability of treating physicians to identify the root causes for these return visits.

Methods: This retrospective cohort study reviewed all returns within 96 h of an initial visit over a 2-year period at a tertiary care pediatric ED. Baseline characteristics were determined from review of patients' charts. The treating physicians, the primary author, and independent reviewers identified the root cause for the returns.

Results: There were 97,374 patients that presented to the ED during the study, and 1091 (1.1%) of these children returned to the ED and were admitted. Returns were most common among children aged<5 years, arriving between 3:00 p.m. and 11:00 p .m. via private transportation, with infectious diseases. The physician involved in the care of the patient attributed 3.1% of returns to potential deficiencies in medical management, whereas the independent reviewers attributed 13% to potential deficiencies.

Conclusions: Both returns and the subset of returns due to potential deficiencies in management are more common than previously estimated, rendering review of returns a valuable quality improvement tool. However, EDs should not rely exclusively on the treating physicians to identify the reason for returns, as they seem to underestimate the frequency of returns due to potential deficiencies in medical management.

MeSH terms

  • Boston
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Disease Progression
  • Emergency Service, Hospital / standards
  • Emergency Service, Hospital / statistics & numerical data*
  • Female
  • Hospitalization / statistics & numerical data*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Patient Education as Topic
  • Quality Indicators, Health Care*
  • Retrospective Studies