BACKGROUND:

Children in child care are frequently unnecessarily excluded for illness. We investigated parental use of urgent medical evaluation for sick children unable to attend child care.

METHODS:

In May 2012, authors conducted a nationally representative survey of parents, who completed online questions regarding child illness causing absence from child care and their medical care-seeking behavior. Main outcome was parents’ use of emergency department or urgent care (ED/UC).

RESULTS:

Overall survey participation rate was 62%. Of participating parent cohort with children 0 to 5 years old, 57% (n = 357) required child care, of which 84% (n = 303) required out-of-home child care. Over 88% of parents sought acute medical care for their sick children unable to attend child care. Approximately one-third of parents needed a doctor’s note for employers and/or child care. Parents sought medical evaluation (>1 option possible) from primary care (81%), UC (26%), or ED (25%). ED/UC use was most common for rash (21%) and fever (15%). Logistic regression indicated ED/UC use was significantly higher among single/divorced parents (odds ratio [OR] = 4.3; 95% confidence interval [CI]: 2.5–13.5); African American parents (OR = 4.2; 95% CI: 1.2–14.6); parents needing a doctor’s note (OR = 4.2; 95% CI: 1.5–11.7); and those with job concerns (OR = 3.4; 95% CI: 1.2–9.7).

CONCLUSIONS:

A substantial proportion of parents whose sick children cannot attend child care seek care in ED/UC. Training child care professionals regarding appropriate illness exclusions may decrease ED/UC visits by lowering child care exclusions.

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