Making choices: Why parents present to the emergency department for non-urgent care.
Objectives: This study aims to provide a better understanding of the motivations and actions of parents of children with non-urgent injury or illness who attend the emergency department at a tertiary paediatric hospital seeking care.
Design: A prospective questionnaire based survey of 355 parents aimed to ascertain information about parent care-giving and care-seeking behaviours prior to presentation at the emergency department with their child.
Results: A total of 355 parents were surveyed, representing 8% of the parents/carers presenting to the emergency department in a three month period for non-urgent (Australasian Triage System 4 & 5) care of their child. The factors identified were; parents rated their child’s condition as moderate to very serious (242 (68%)); two thirds of parents (234 (66%)) had sought advice prior to attending the emergency department; 54% (77) of the 137 children who attended with an injury presented promptly to emergency (i.e. within four hours of injury) whereas of the 216 presenting with an illness 41% (88) presented within two to seven days of the onset of the illness.
Conclusions: This study displayed the accuracy of ‘parental triage’, that is, parents assess their child’s health, and generally engage in appropriate care-giving and care-seeking behaviours before presenting to a paediatric emergency department. Highlighted are the deficiencies in current primary care services available to families and the perception that not all cases deemed as non-urgent by the emergency department are able to be dealt with in a primary care setting.