Population level administrative data evidence of visits to the emergency department by youth with intellectual/developmental disabilities in BC, Canada

Am J Emerg Med. 2023 Jul:69:52-57. doi: 10.1016/j.ajem.2023.04.006. Epub 2023 Apr 8.


Introduction: The literature indicates that youth with intellectual/developmental disabilities (IDD) have poor health and that access to health services decreases as they transition from pediatric to adult services. At the same time their use of emergency department services increases. The objective of this study was to compare use of emergency department services by youth with IDD to youth without IDD, with particular emphasis on the transition period from pediatric to adult health care services.

Methods: This research used a population level administrative health data base for the province of British Columbia Canada for 2010-2019 to examine the use of emergency departments by youth with IDD (N = 20,591) compared to a population group of youth without IDD (N = 1,293,791). Using the ten years of data, odds ratios for visits to the emergency department were calculated adjusting for sex, income and geographical area within the Province. In addition, difference-in-differences analyses were calculated for age matched subsets of the two cohorts.

Results: Over the ten year period, 40.60% of youth with IDD visited an emergency department at least once, compared to 29.10% of youth without IDD. Youth with IDD had an odds ratio of visiting an emergency department 1.697 (1.649, 1.747) times that of youth without IDD. However, when odds were adjusted for a diagnosis of either psychotic illness or anxiety/depression, the odds for youth with IDD visiting emergency compared to youth without IDD were reduced to 1.063 (1.031, 1.096). Use of emergency services increased as youth aged. Type of IDD also affected use of emergency services. Youth with Fetal Alcohol Syndrome had the greatest odds of using emergency services compared to youth with other types of IDD.

Discussion: The findings from this study indicate that youth with IDD have higher odds of using emergency services than youth without IDD although these increased odds appear to be largely driven by mental illness. In addition, use of emergency services increases as the youth age and transition from pediatric to adult health services. Better treatment of mental health issues within this population may reduce their use of emergency services.

Keywords: Administrative data; Emergency department; Intellectual/developmental disability; Transition; Youth.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • British Columbia / epidemiology
  • Child
  • Developmental Disabilities / epidemiology
  • Developmental Disabilities / therapy
  • Emergency Medical Services*
  • Emergency Service, Hospital
  • Humans
  • Intellectual Disability* / epidemiology
  • Intellectual Disability* / therapy