Social Risk Screening in Pediatric Primary Care Anticipates Acute Care Utilization

Pediatr Emerg Care. 2021 Oct 1;37(10):e609-e614. doi: 10.1097/PEC.0000000000001979.


Objective: The aim of the study was to assess whether responses to a standardized social risk screen administered during pediatric well-child visits (WCV) were associated with emergency department (ED) or urgent care (UC) utilization.

Methods: This was a retrospective cohort study of 26,509 children younger than 13 years with a WCV between January 1, 2012, and December 31, 2013. Exposure was positive response(s) on a standardized social risk screening questionnaire at the index WCV. Primary outcome was number of ED or UC visits in the 12 months after the WCV.

Results: The cohort was 50.9% male and 65.7% black, with a median age of 3.6 years. More than 20% had a positive response to at least one question on the social risk screen. For those reporting any social risk, 46.7% had 1 or more EDs or UC visit within 12 months. Each additional reported risk was associated with a 4% increase in the rate of ED utilization (incidence rate ratio = 1.04, 95% confidence interval = 1.02-1.07) and a 16% increase in the rate of hospitalizations (incidence rate ratio = 1.16, 95% confidence interval = 1.08-1.24). Similar patterns were noted for those visiting the ED 4 times or more (adjusted odds ratio = 1.09, 1.03-1.15) and hospitalization 2 times or more (adjusted odds ratio = 1.19, 1.04-1.35) in the year after the WCV. Those who screened positive on food insecurity, safety, and desire to meet with a social worker questions also had higher odds of ED or UC utilization.

Conclusions: Families reporting a social concern on a standardized screen during a WCV had increased acute care utilization in the subsequent year. Identifying socially at-risk families may allow for the creation of more effective strategies to prevent future utilization.

MeSH terms

  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Emergency Service, Hospital*
  • Female
  • Hospitalization*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Mass Screening
  • Primary Health Care
  • Retrospective Studies