Pediatric Patients Discharged After Transfer to a Pediatric Emergency Department: Opportunities for Telehealth?

Ann Emerg Med. 2024 Mar;83(3):208-213. doi: 10.1016/j.annemergmed.2023.08.489. Epub 2023 Sep 22.


Study objective: Interemergency department pediatric transfers can be costly, involve risk, and may be disruptive to patients and families. Telehealth could be a way to safely reduce the number of transfers. We made an estimate of the proportion of transfers of pediatric patients to our emergency department (ED) that may have been avoidable using telehealth.

Methods: This was a retrospective analysis of electronic health record data of all pediatric patients (younger than 19 years) who were transferred to a single urban, academic medical center pediatric emergency department (PED) (annual pediatric volume approximately 15,000) between June 1, 2016, and December 29, 2021. We defined transfers as potentially avoidable with telehealth (the primary outcome) when the encounter at the receiving ED resulted in ED discharge and 1) met our definition of low-resource intensity (had no laboratory tests, diagnostic imaging, procedures, or consultations) or 2) could have used initial ED resources with telehealth guidance.

Results: Among 4,446 PED patients received in transfer during the study period, 406 (9%) were low-resource intensity. Of the non-low-resource intensity encounters, as many as another 1,103 (24.8%) potentially could have been avoided depending on available telehealth and initial ED resources, ranging from 210 (4.7%) with only telehealth specialty consultation to 538 (7.4%) with imaging and telehealth specialty consultation, and up to 1,034 (23.3%) with laboratory, imaging, and telehealth specialty consultation.

Conclusion: Our results suggest that depending on available telehealth and initial ED resources, between 9% and 33% of pediatric inter-ED transfers may have been avoidable. This information may guide health system design and PED operations when considering implementing pediatric telehealth.

MeSH terms

  • Child
  • Emergency Service, Hospital
  • Humans
  • Patient Discharge*
  • Patient Transfer
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Telemedicine*