Understanding Pediatric Caretakers’ Views On Obtaining Medical Care for Low‐Acuity Illness

Abstract [from journal]

Background: A significant proportion of low acuity emergency department (ED) visits are by patients under 18 years of age. Results from prior interventions designed to reduce low acuity pediatric ED use have been mixed or poorly sustained, perhaps because they were not informed by patient and caretakers’ perspectives. The objective of this study was to explore caretaker decision‐making processes, values and priorities when deciding to seek care.

Methods: We conducted semi‐structured interviews of caretakers in both emergency and primary care settings, incorporating stimulated recall methodology. We also explored receptiveness to two care delivery innovations: use of community health workers (CHWs) and video teleconferencing.

Results: Interviews of 57 caretakers identified multiple barriers to accessing primary care for their children's’ acute illness, including transportation, work constraints and childcare. Frequent ED users lacked reliable social supports to overcome barriers. Fear of unforeseen health outcomes and a lack of trust in unfamiliar providers also influenced decision‐making, rather than lack of general knowledge about minor illness. Receptiveness to CHWs was mixed, reflecting concerns for privacy and level of expertise. The option of video teleconferencing for low acuity care was well received by caretakers.

Conclusions: Caretakers who used the ED frequently had limited social support and reported difficulty accessing care when compared to other caretakers. Fear also motivated care seeking and a desire for immediate medical care. Teleconferencing for low acuity visits may be a useful healthcare delivery tool to reduce access barriers and provide rapid reassurance without engaging the ED.