Pandemic-related challenges continue to arise, and emergency physicians continue to manage the many implications. More forward planning will be a priority, as hospital and health care leaders look to emergency department leaders for guidance on planning. The performance of emergency departments in 2020 has been summarized by the Emergency Department Benchmarking Alliance (EDBA) in its annual survey report. One of the operational changes that occurred in the pandemic year was an ongoing decrease in young patients presenting to community emergency departments.
Children have comprised a large mix of patients since the advent of emergency services. There has been some inconsistency in the definition of children, but in 2006, the leaders of emergency services agreed that the data definition of pediatrics would be individuals under the age of 18.1
Another source of data on ED visits is the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) ED survey from the National Center for Health Statistics. That study has documented a decrease in ED visits by young persons. The CDC has used a different methodology and counts visits for patients under the age of 15 in all emergency departments including all children’s hospitals. In its survey, the percentage of ED patients under the age of 15 in 1982 was 25.4 percent, and in 2018, the visits were about 19.7 percent across all emergency departments.2
The EDBA data survey for 2020 allows a focus on community emergency departments, and in those facilities, the percentage of patients under age 18 is 13 percent. The data in Figure 1 display the trends in ED pediatric visit rates in community hospitals over the last 17 years. The last eight years in particular show decreased visit rates.
Visits by Kids Down to 13 Percent
One reason is the growing percentage of patients over the age of 64 who are being seen. The percentage of patients seen in general service emergency departments who are over age 64 has increased. The CDC data showed an 8.6 percent mix of patients over the age of 64 in 1992, the first year of its study. The number and percentage of senior persons are increasing in the general population, and in 2018, the CDC survey counted 17.9 percent of ED patients being over the age of 64.