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Social risk screening in pediatric primary care anticipates acute care utilization

V.M. Wurster Ovalle, A.F. Beck, N.J. Ollberding, M.D. Klein
Pediatr Emerg Care


Objective: The aim of the study was to assess whether responses to a standardized social risk screen administered during pediatric well-child visits (WCV) were associated with emergency department (ED) or urgent care (UC) utilization. Methods: This was a retrospective cohort study of 26,509 children younger than 13 years with a WCV between January 1, 2012, and December 31, 2013. Exposure was positive response(s) on a standardized social risk screening questionnaire at the index WCV. Primary outcome was number of ED or UC visits in the 12 months after the WCV. Results: The cohort was 50.9% male and 65.7% black, with a median age of 3.6 years. More than 20% had a positive response to at least one question on the social risk screen. For those reporting any social risk, 46.7% had 1 or more EDs or UC visit within 12 months. Each additional reported risk was associated with a 4% increase in the rate of ED utilization (incidence rate ratio = 1.04, 95% confidence interval = 1.02–1.07) and a 16% increase in the rate of hospitalizations (incidence rate ratio = 1.16, 95% confidence interval = 1.08–1.24). Similar patterns were noted for those visiting the ED 4 times or more (adjusted odds ratio = 1.09, 1.03–1.15) and hospitalization 2 times or more (adjusted odds ratio = 1.19, 1.04–1.35) in the year after the WCV. Those who screened positive on food insecurity, safety, and desire to meet with a social worker questions also had higher odds of ED or UC utilization. Conclusions: Families reporting a social concern on a standardized screen during a WCV had increased acute care utilization in the subsequent year. Identifying socially at-risk families may allow for the creation of more effective strategies to prevent future utilization.

Wurster Ovalle VM, Beck AF, Ollberding NJ, Klein MD. Social risk screening in pediatric primary care anticipates acute care utilization. Pediatr Emerg Care. 2021 Oct 1;37(10):e609-e614. doi: 10.1097/PEC.0000000000001979. PMID: 32149994.

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Publication year
Resource type
Peer Reviewed Research
Children and Youth
Screening research
Social Determinant of Health
Study design
Other Study Design