Reasons for Emergency Room Use Among U.S. Children: National Health Interview Survey, 2012

Posted on by NCHS

Emergency rooms (ERs) are intended to provide care for acute and life-threatening medical conditions for people of all ages, but use is highest among older adults and young children. In 2012, 18% of children aged 0–17 years visited the ER at least once in the past year. Rising health care costs make it important to understand the reasons that families with children seek ER care, rather than less expensive office-based or outpatient care.

Families visiting the ER at night or on weekends may have different characteristics or reasons for using the ER than those who visit during the day. Previous research among adults found that the majority visited the ER because “only a hospital could help,” or the “doctor’s office [was] not open.”

A new report provides comparable statistics on reasons for children’s ER use.

Key Findings from the Report:


  • In 2012, children with Medicaid coverage were more likely than uninsured children and those with private coverage to have visited the emergency room (ER) at least once in the past year.
  • About 75% of children’s most recent visits to an ER in the past 12 months took place at night or on a weekend, regardless of health insurance coverage status.
  • The seriousness of the medical problem was less likely to be the reason that children with Medicaid visited the ER at their most recent visit compared with children with private insurance.
  • Among children whose most recent visit to the ER was for reasons other than the seriousness of the medical problem, the majority visited the ER because the doctor’s office was not open.


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Page last reviewed: July 29, 2014
Page last updated: July 29, 2014