Disruption of Pediatric Emergency Department Use during the COVID-19 Pandemic

Academic Article


  • Objectives There is evidence of substantial declines in pediatric emergency department (ED) utilization in the United States in the first several months of the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic. Less is known about whether utilization changed differentially for socioeconomically disadvantaged children. This study examined how changes in pediatric ED visits during the initial months of the COVID-19 pandemic differed by two markers of socioeconomic disadvantage: minoritized race (MR) (compared with non-Hispanic White [NHW]), and publicly insured (compared with privately insured). Methods This study used electronic medical records from a large pediatric ED for the period January to June 2020. Three time periods in 2020 were compared with corresponding time periods in 2019. Changes in overall visits, visits for MR versus NHW children, and Medicaid-enrolled versus privately insured children were considered, and changes in the acuity mix of ED visits and share of visits resulting in inpatient admits were inspected. Results Compared with 2019, total ED visits declined in time period (TP) 1 and TP2 of 2020 (54.3%, 48.9%). Declines were larger for MR children (57.3%, 57.8%) compared with NHW children (50.5%, 39.3%), and Medicaid enrollees (56.5%, 52.0%) compared with privately insured (48.3%, 39.0%). The MR children group experienced steeper percentage declines in high-acuity visits and visits, resulting in inpatient admissions compared with NHW children. In contrast, there was little evidence of difference between TP0s of 2019 and 2020. Conclusions The role of socioeconomic disadvantage and the potential effects on pediatric ED visits during COVID-19 is understudied. Because disadvantaged children sometimes lack access to a usual source of health care, this raises concerns about unmet health needs and worsening health disparities.
  • Published In

    Digital Object Identifier (doi)

    Author List

  • Sen B; Brisendine AE; Ghosh P
  • Start Page

  • 250
  • End Page

  • 255
  • Volume

  • 115
  • Issue

  • 4