Evaluation of changes in pediatric emergency department utilization during COVID-19 pandemic: Changes during COVID-19 pandemic

Arch Pediatr. 2021 Oct 6;28(8):677-682. doi: 10.1016/j.arcped.2021.09.014. Online ahead of print.

Abstract

Background: During the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic period, the use of emergency services with pediatric non-COVID patients has decreased considerably. We aimed to examine whether there was a change in the demographic data, triage profile, causes, management, and cost of pediatric emergency department (PED) visits of non-COVID patients during the pandemic period.

Methods: This study was a retrospective, single-center, observational comparative study that was conducted at the PED. Patient records were examined during "the pandemic spring" and the same period of the previous year. Patient demographics, waiting time, and outcome of the PED visit were analyzed in the entire population of children admitted to the PED during the study period, whereas more precise data such as the reason for PED use, duration of symptoms, urgency levels according to the Emergency Severity Index (ESI), final diagnosis, management, and cost of patient care were analyzed in a sample of admitted patients. We used the chi-square test, Fisher's exact test, and Mann-Whitney U test for statistical analyses.

Results: A total of 62,593 PED visits occurred. During the pandemic period, PED visits showed a decrease of 55.8% compared to the previous year. Patients included in the sampling study group were selected using a systematic random sampling method. The median waiting time during the pandemic period was significantly shorter than the previous year (median 14 min [IQR: 5-32] vs. median 5 min [IQR: 2-16]; p<0.001). The median duration of symptoms was 1 day (1-2) in both groups. Emergency Severity Index (ESI) levels I, II, and III showed a significant increase (27.7% vs. 37.3%) in triage scoring compared to levels IV and V (72.3% vs. 62.7%) during the pandemic period (p<0.001). The median cost per patient during the pandemic period was statistically higher compared to the previous year ($19.57 [19.57-40.50] vs. $25.34 [31.50-52.01]; p<0.001). Overall costs during the pandemic period had a 1.6-fold decline.

Conclusion: We highlighted the changes in an ordinary PED profile during an extraordinary period. A shift in ESI levels in a more emergent direction was observed. While the number of nonurgent patients, especially those with infections, decreased, the rates of surgical cases, acute neurological and heart diseases, home accidents, and poisoning increased relative to the pre-pandemic period.

Keywords: COVID-19; Emergency; Pandemic; Pediatric.