Study Finds Many Families Hesitant to Take Children to Emergency Department During COVID-19 Pandemic


Study shows the greatest hesitancy in seeking emergency medical services among families living in under-resourced communities, which highlight health inequities that already exist during the pandemic.

A new study has found that nearly 1 in 4 families said they would be unlikely to bring their child to the emergency department (ED) if they had an emergency condition during the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic.

The authors found the greatest hesitancy among families living in under-resourced communities, those who rely on public insurance, and in families who are Black, Latinx, or Asian. These findings could exacerbate health inequities that already exist during the pandemic, according to the study authors.

“We observed greater hesitancy to use the emergency department among more vulnerable demographic groups who historically showed high utilization of emergency care for their children,” said lead author Michelle Macy, MD, pediatric emergency care specialist at Lurie Children’s Hospital, in a press release. “This reluctance to seek care in a real emergency might further exacerbate health inequities.”

The survey was conducted in Illinois during the first week of May 2020, following a stay-at-home order issued by the governor in March that limited health care seeking to emergencies and COVID-19 care. Although pediatric outpatient care has rebounded since the restrictions were lifted, the study authors noted that emergency care continues to lag.

The survey included 3896 families in metropolitan Chicago during the first wave of the pandemic. Overall, 23% of families said they were hesitant to seek emergency care for their child, with the greatest hesitancy observed in families from the most under-resourced communities (27%) compared with those in more affluent neighborhoods (19%).

Among families of color, approximately one-third said they would be unlikely to bring their child to the emergency department, and that number was similar for families on public insurance. Among Spanish speakers, 36% said they were hesitant to seek emergency care.

“At Lurie Children’s Emergency Department, we are still seeing about half of the patients we would normally expect to see,” Macy said in the statement. “This is concerning, since delays in emergency care may lead to a child’s condition worsening to the point where they require hospital admission. To avoid a true health crisis, children need to be brought in earlier in the course of their illness. If families are ever concerned, they should contact their child’s primary care provider to determine if emergency care is advised. Our emergency department is safe and always ready to help.”


Nearly 1 in 4 families hesitant to take their child to ER during COVID-19 pandemic [news release]. EurekAlert; January 25, 2021. Accessed January 26, 2021.

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