Background: Underutilization of emergency medical services (EMS) for children with high-acuity conditions is poorly understood. Our objective was to identify differences in demographic factors and describe caregivers' knowledge, beliefs, and attitudes regarding EMS utilization for children with high-acuity conditions.
Design/methods: This was a mixed-methods study of children with high acuity conditions, defined as requiring immediate medical or surgical intervention and intensive care admission, over a one year period. Demographic data were collected through a retrospective chart review. Qualitative analysis of semi-structured interviews from a purposive sample of caregivers was conducted until thematic saturation was achieved.
Results: Three hundred seventy-four charts were reviewed; 19 caregivers were interviewed (17 in-person, 2 via telephone). The 232 (62%) children not arriving by EMS tended to be younger (1.58 years vs. 2.31 years, p = 0.02), privately insured (30% vs. 19%, p = 0.04), and lived further from the hospital (16.80 miles vs. 12.45 miles, p = 0.001). Patient gender, ethnicity, comorbidities and caregiver language were not associated with EMS underutilization. Immediate invasive medical interventions were more often required for EMS utilizers (85% vs. 60%, p < 0.001). EMS utilizers were more likely to require intubation (78% vs. 47%, p < 0.001) and cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) (26% vs. 2%, p < 0.001), and had shorter hospital stays (4.70 vs. 8.16 days; p-value < 0.001). Three principal themes determined EMS utilization: expectations, knowledge, and perceived barriers. Three principal themes determined EMS utilization: expectations, knowledge, and perceived barriers. Caretakers expected EMS would provide timely, safe transportation that expedited medical care and emotional support. Medical knowledge and prior experience with EMS influenced decision-making about arrival mode. Timeliness, cost, socioeconomic and demographic characteristics, loss of autonomy, and the logistics of EMS activation and transport were the most commonly reported barriers.
Conclusions: Young age, private insurance status, and greater distance from the hospital were associated with EMS underutilization. Understanding caregiver expectations, knowledge, and perceived barriers may have important implications for the use of EMS for children. These findings reveal opportunities for improved public education on EMS systems to enhance appropriate EMS utilization for children with high acuity conditions.
Keywords: ambulance; emergency medical services (EMS); pediatric; utilization.