We aim to describe the number of health care visits before and after pediatric emergency department (PED) visits for common illnesses in a French tertiary pediatric hospital. This was a prospective cohort study with 501 children under 6 years of age who were evaluated and discharged from a tertiary care PED. Enrollment occurred on eight randomly selected study days between November 2010 and June 2011. The caregivers were then contacted via telephone 8 days later to obtain follow-up data, including information about return visits to health care facilities. Multiple visits were made by 206 (41 %) children, previous visits had occurred for 139 (28 %) children, and return visits had occurred for 94 (19 %) children. Previous and return visits were made at the PED as well as in general practitioners' offices and private pediatric offices. The median age of the subjects was 18 months. Fever was the most common complaint and was associated with more frequent multiple heath care visits.
Conclusion: Multiple heath care visits for the same illness are frequent, especially for febrile children. Interestingly, this phenomenon concerns every type of health care facility, including the PED, general practitioners' offices, and private pediatric offices. Further studies should be performed to achieve a better understanding of this phenomenon and to test specific interventions, such as parental education and improvement of the information system.