Objective: This study aimed to examine the prevalence and characteristics of psychiatry-related emergency department (ED) visits among children with an autism spectrum disorder (ASD), including the specific reason for visit, as well as the influence of insurance type.
Methods: Data used for this cross-sectional, observational study were obtained from the 2008 National Emergency Department Sample, the largest all-payer ED database in the United States. Psychiatry-related visits to the ED among children with ASD were identified using International Classification of Diseases, Ninth Revision, billing codes. A total of 3,974,332 visits (unweighted) were present for youth 3–17 years, of which 13,191 involved a child with ASD.
Results: Thirteen percent of visits among children with ASD were due to a psychiatric problem, as compared with 2% of all visits by youths without ASD. Results from the multivariate analyses revealed that the likelihood for a psychiatric ED visit was increased 9-fold (odds ratio [OR], 9.13; 95% confidence interval [CI], 8.61–9.70) among pediatric ASD visits, compared with non-ASD visits. Children with ASD who were covered by private insurance, compared with those with medical assistance, were at even greater risk for a psychiatric ED visit (OR, 1.58; 95% CI, 1.53–1.63). Visits among children with ASD were more likely to be due to externalizing (OR, 1.62; 95% CI, 1.44–1.83) and psychotic (OR, 1.93; 95% CI, 1.58–2.35) disorders compared with visits among non-ASD children.
Conclusions: This study highlights the need for improving community-based psychiatric systems of care for youths with ASD to divert psychiatry-related ED visits, particularly for those children with private insurance.