Recurrent and high-frequency use of the emergency department by pediatric patients

Elizabeth R. Alpern*, Amy E. Clark, Evaline A. Alessandrini, Marc H. Gorelick, Marlena Kittick, Rachel M. Stanley, J. Michael Dean, Stephen J. Teach, James M. Chamberlain

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

111 Scopus citations


Objectives The authors sought to describe the epidemiology of and risk factors for recurrent and high-frequency use of the emergency department (ED) by children. Methods This was a retrospective cohort study using a database of children aged 0 to 17 years, inclusive, presenting to 22 EDs of the Pediatric Emergency Care Applied Research Network (PECARN) during 2007, with 12-month follow-up after each index visit. ED diagnoses for each visit were categorized as trauma, acute medical, or chronic medical conditions. Recurrent visits were defined as any repeat visit; high-frequency use was defined as four or more recurrent visits. Generalized estimating equations (GEEs) were used to measure the strength of associations between patient and visit characteristics and recurrent ED use. Results A total of 695,188 unique children had at least one ED visit each in 2007, with 455,588 recurrent ED visits in the 12 months following the index visits. Sixty-four percent of patients had no recurrent visits, 20% had one, 8% had two, 4% had three, and 4% had four or more recurrent visits. Acute medical diagnoses accounted for most visits regardless of the number of recurrent visits. As the number of recurrent visits per patient rose, chronic diseases were increasingly represented, with asthma being the most common ED diagnosis. Trauma-related diagnoses were more common among patients without recurrent visits than among those with high-frequency recurrent visits (28% vs. 9%; p < 0.001). High-frequency recurrent visits were more often within the highest severity score classifications. In multivariable analysis, recurrent visits were associated with younger age, black or Hispanic race or ethnicity, and public health insurance. Conclusions Risk factors for recurrent ED use by children include age, race and ethnicity, and insurance status. Although asthma plays an important role in recurrent ED use, acute illnesses account for the majority of recurrent ED visits.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)365-373
Number of pages9
JournalAcademic Emergency Medicine
Issue number4
StatePublished - Apr 2014

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Emergency Medicine


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