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J Eval Clin Pract. 2020 Mar 5. doi: 10.1111/jep.13382. [Epub ahead of print]

Frequent emergency department use in the paediatric population: A systematic literature review.

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School of Public Health, Department of Health Policy and Management, Texas A&M University, College Station, Texas, USA.
Population Informatics Lab, Texas A&M University, College Station, Texas, USA.
Health Science Center College of Nursing, Texas A&M University, Bryan, Texas, USA.
Medical Sciences Library, Texas A&M University, College Station, Texas, USA.



We systematically reviewed the literature on paediatric frequent emergency department (ED) users to identify and to synthesize characteristics and factors associated with frequent ED utilization among this population in the United States.


We searched Medline (Ovid), CINAHL (Ebsco), and Embase (Ovid) to identify all relevant studies after 1990. We focused on US studies analysing paediatric frequent ED (PFED) users excluding those focused on specific subgroups. Two reviewers independently selected articles and extracted data on predisposing, enabling, behavioural, need and reinforcing factors.


Fifteen studies met the inclusion criteria. PFED users comprised 3% to 14% of all paediatric ED users and accounted for 9% to 42% of all paediatric ED visits in 11 studies that defined frequent use as four to six ED visits per year. Most PFED users were less than 5 years old who had public insurance coverage and a regular provider. Public insurance compared to private residency in disadvantaged areas, having at least one chronic or complex condition and a history of hospitalization, were associated with frequent use. Children who had a regular primary care provider were less likely to exhibit frequent ED use.


Minimizing unnecessary ED visits by frequent utilizers is a quality improvement and cost-saving priority for health systems. Our findings indicate that many PFED users have greater healthcare needs and face barriers accessing care in a timely manner, even though some have regular providers. To better address the needs of this vulnerable group, health systems should focus on educating caregivers and expanding access to providers in other settings.


children; emergency departments; frequent users; high utilization; paediatrics


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