Emergency Department Use in the Perinatal Period: An Opportunity for Early Intervention

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Study objective

We characterize emergency department (ED) utilization among perinatal women and identify differences in risk factors and outcomes between women who use versus do not use the ED during the perinatal period.


This is a retrospective cross-sectional study comparing patients who used the ED versus did not use the ED during the perinatal period. Patient data were collected from medical chart review and postpartum interviews.


Of the 678 participants, 218 (33%) had at least 1 perinatal ED visit. Women who used the ED were more likely than those who did not to be adolescent (relative risk [RR] 2.23; 95% confidence interval [CI] 1.38 to 3.63), of minority race (RR 1.94; 95% CI 1.46 to 2.57), and Medicaid insured (RR 2.14; 95% CI 1.71 to 2.67). They were more likely to smoke prenatally (RR 3.42; 95% CI 2.34 to 4.99), to use recreational drugs prenatally (RR 3.53; 95% CI 1.78 to 7.03), and to have experienced domestic abuse (RR 1.78; 95% CI 1.12 to 2.83). They were more likely to have delayed entry to prenatal care (RR 2.01; 95% CI 1.46 to 2.77) and to experience postpartum depression (RR 2.97; 95% CI 1.90 to 4.64). Their infants were nearly twice as likely to be born prematurely (RR 1.92; 95% CI 1.07 to 3.47).


Results highlight that pregnant patients using the ED are a high-risk, vulnerable population. Routine ED screening and linkage of this vulnerable population to early prenatal care and psychosocial interventions should be considered as a public health strategy worth investigating.

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