Pediatric Emergency Department Visits at US Children's Hospitals During the COVID-19 Pandemic.

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DOI: 10.1542/peds.2020-039628


Background and objectives: The impact of the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic on pediatric emergency department (ED) visits is not well characterized. We aimed to describe the epidemiology of pediatric ED visits and resource use during the pandemic.

Methods: We conducted a cross-sectional study using the Pediatric Health Information System for ED visits to 27 US children's hospitals during the COVID-19 pandemic period (March 15, 2020, to August 31, 2020) and a 3-year comparator period (March 15 to August 31, 2017-2019). ED visit rates, patient and visit characteristics, resource use, and ED charges were compared between the time periods. We specifically evaluated changes in low-resource-intensity visits, defined as ED visits that did not result in hospitalization or medication administration and for which no laboratory tests, diagnostic imaging, or procedures were performed.

Results: ED visit rates decreased by 45.7% (average 911 026 ED visits over 2017-2019 vs 495 052 visits in 2020) during the pandemic. The largest decrease occurred among visits for respiratory disorders (70.0%). The pandemic was associated with a relative increase in the proportion of visits for children with a chronic condition from 23.7% to 27.8% (P < .001). The proportion of low-resource-intensity visits decreased by 7.0 percentage points, and total charges decreased by 20.0% during the pandemic period.

Conclusions: The COVID-19 pandemic was associated with a marked decrease in pediatric ED visits across a broad range of conditions; however, the proportional decline of poisoning and mental health visits was less pronounced. The impact of decreased visits on patient outcomes warrants further research.

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