The objective of this study was to examine the appropriateness of utilization of an urban pediatric emergency department (ED) by children who had a pediatrician and factors relating to whether the pediatrician was called before an ED visit. This was done prospectively and randomly in an urban teaching hospital pediatric ED. One hundred and sixty-six patients, 18 years old and younger, who presented for nontraumatic conditions and had a pediatrician, classified as private or nonprivate, were enrolled. A questionnaire was completed and appropriateness of visit was determined using previously published criteria. No difference in appropriateness of visit was found between private and nonprivate patients (58/98, 40/68, NS). Thirty-five of 54 (65%) parents who called their pediatrician were classified as an appropriate ED visit as opposed to 62 of 112 who did not call (55%, NS). Private patients called their physicians more often then nonprivate patients (P<0.001). Lack of access to their primary care providers was the more common reason among nonprivate patients (P<0.05) for not calling their pediatricians.
We conclude that appropriateness of pediatric ED visits is independent of type of physician. Nonprivate patients tend to consult their physician less often before ED visits because of access problems.