Pediatric Use of Emergency Medical Services: The Role of Chronic Illnesses and Behavioral Health Problems

Prehosp Emerg Care. 2016 May-Jun;20(3):362-8. doi: 10.3109/10903127.2015.1115928.


Objective: The increasing use of prehospital emergency medical services (EMS) and its contribution to rising emergency department use and healthcare costs point to the need for better understanding factors associated with EMS use to inform preventive interventions. Understanding patient factors associated with pediatric use of EMS will inform pediatric-specific intervention. We examined pediatric patient demographic and health factors associated with one-time and repeat use of EMS.

Methods: We reviewed data from Baltimore City Fire Department EMS patient records over a 23-month period (2008-10) for patients under 21 years of age (n = 24,760). Repeat use was defined as involvement in more than one EMS incident during the observation period. Analyses compared demographics of EMS users to the city population and demographics and health problems of repeat and one-time EMS users. Health comparisons were conducted at the patient and incident levels of analysis.

Results: Repeat users (n = 1,931) accounted for 9.0% of pediatric users and 20.8% of pediatric incidents, and were over-represented among the 18-20 year age group and among females. While trauma accounted for approximately one-quarter of incidents, repeat versus one-time users had a lower proportion of trauma-related incidents (7.2% vs. 26.7%) and higher proportion of medical-related incidents (92.6% vs. 71.4%), including higher proportions of incidents related to asthma, seizures, and obstetric/gynecologic issues. In patient-level analysis, based on provider or patient reports, greater proportions of repeat compared to one-time users had asthma, behavioral health problems (mental, conduct and substance use problems), seizures, and diabetes.

Conclusions: Chronic somatic conditions and behavioral health problems appear to contribute to a large proportion of the repeat pediatric use of this EMS system. Interventions may be needed to engage repeat users in primary care and behavioral health services, to train EMS providers on the recognition and management of behavioral health emergencies, and to improve family care and self-management of pediatric asthma and other chronic conditions.

Keywords: asthma; chronic health conditions; pediatric emergency medical services; prehospital care psychiatric and mental health problems.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Baltimore
  • Child
  • Child Behavior*
  • Child, Preschool
  • Chronic Disease*
  • Emergency Medical Services / statistics & numerical data*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Male
  • Medical Audit
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Young Adult