BACKGROUND AND OBJECTIVES:

The impact of the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic on pediatric emergency department (ED) visits is not well characterized. We aimed to describe the epidemiology of pediatric ED visits and resource use during the pandemic.

METHODS:

We conducted a cross-sectional study using the Pediatric Health Information System for ED visits to 27 US children’s hospitals during the COVID-19 pandemic period (March 15, 2020, to August 31, 2020) and a 3-year comparator period (March 15 to August 31, 2017–2019). ED visit rates, patient and visit characteristics, resource use, and ED charges were compared between the time periods. We specifically evaluated changes in low–resource-intensity visits, defined as ED visits that did not result in hospitalization or medication administration and for which no laboratory tests, diagnostic imaging, or procedures were performed.

RESULTS:

ED visit rates decreased by 45.7% (average 911 026 ED visits over 2017–2019 vs 495 052 visits in 2020) during the pandemic. The largest decrease occurred among visits for respiratory disorders (70.0%). The pandemic was associated with a relative increase in the proportion of visits for children with a chronic condition from 23.7% to 27.8% (P < .001). The proportion of low–resource-intensity visits decreased by 7.0 percentage points, and total charges decreased by 20.0% during the pandemic period.

CONCLUSIONS:

The COVID-19 pandemic was associated with a marked decrease in pediatric ED visits across a broad range of conditions; however, the proportional decline of poisoning and mental health visits was less pronounced. The impact of decreased visits on patient outcomes warrants further research.

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