Although head trauma–related deaths, hospitalizations, and emergency department visits are well characterized, few studies describe pediatric patients presenting outside of emergency departments. We compared the epidemiology and extent of healthcare-seeking pediatric (0–17 years) patients presenting in outpatient settings with those of patients seeking nonhospitalized emergency department care.
We used MarketScan Medicaid and commercial claims, 2004–2013, to identify patients managed in two outpatient settings (physician’s offices/clinics, urgent care) and the emergency department. We then examined differences in demographic and injury-specific factors, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention–defined head trauma diagnoses, the extent of and reasons for post-index visit ambulatory care use within 30/90/180 days, and annual and monthly variations in head trauma trends. Outpatient incidence rates in 2013 provided estimates of the nationwide US outpatient burden.
A total of 1,683,097 index visits were included, representing a nationwide burden in 2013 of 844,660 outpatient cases, a number that encompassed 51% of healthcare-seeking head trauma that year and that substantially increased in magnitude from 2004 to 2013. Two-thirds (68%) were managed in outpatient settings. While demographic distributions varied with index-visit location, injury-specific factors were comparable. Seasonal spikes appeared to coincide with school sports.
There is an urgent need to better understand the natural history of head trauma in the >800,000 pediatric patients presenting each year for outpatient care. These outpatient injuries, which are more than double the number of head trauma cases recorded in the hospital-affiliated settings, illustrate the potential importance of expanding inclusion criteria in surveillance and prevention efforts designed to address this critical issue.