The ecology of medical care for children in the United States

Susan Dovey, Michael Weitzman, George Fryer, Larry Green, Barbara Yawn, David Lanier, Robert Phillips

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Background. Medical care ecology has previously been investigated for adults, but no similar exploration has been made specifically for children. Objective. To describe proportions of children receiving care in 6 types of health care setting on a monthly basis and to identify characteristics associated with receipt of care in these settings. Methods. Nationally representative data from the 1996 Medical Expenditure Panel Survey were used to estimate the number of children per 1000 per month who received care at least once in each type of setting. Multivariate analyses assessed associations between receiving care in various settings and children's sociodemographic factors (age, sex, ethnicity, poverty, parent's education, urban or rural residence, insurance status, and whether or not the child had a usual source of care). Results. Of 1000 children aged 0 to 17 years, on average each month 167 visited a physician's office, 82 a dentist's office, 13 an emergency department, and 8 a hospital-based outpatient clinic. Three were hospitalized and 2 received professional health care in their home. Younger age was associated with increased proportions of children receiving care in all health care settings except dentists' clinics. Poverty, lack of health insurance, black race, and Hispanic ethnicity were associated with decreased receipt of care in physicians' and dentists' offices. Only age (<2 years and 13-17 years) and poverty status were associated with hospitalization (P < .05 for each). Rural residence was not associated with any significant variation in proportions of children receiving care in any setting. Having a usual source of care was associated with increased receipt of care in all settings except hospitals. Conclusions. The ecology of children's medical care is similar to that of adults in the United States in that a substantial proportion of children receive health care each month, mostly in community-based, outpatient settings. In all settings except emergency departments, receipt of care varies significantly by children's age, race, ethnicity, income, health insurance status, and whether they have a usual source of care.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1024-1029
Number of pages6
Issue number5 I
StatePublished - May 1 2003


  • Ecology
  • Health systems
  • Medical Expenditure Panel Survey
  • Medical care
  • Primary care

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pediatrics, Perinatology, and Child Health


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