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To examine sociodemographic variations among children <18 years in (1) rates of self-harm visits to emergency departments (EDs) and (2) physician follow-up after the self-harm visit in Alberta.
A retrospective, population-based cohort (2002–2011) of ED visits for self-harm by individuals <18 years was conducted using administrative databases from Alberta, Canada. Individuals were grouped by First Nations status or type of health care premium subsidy (family receipt of government subsidy, human services program subsidy, no subsidy received). Visits from 104 EDs were summarized by crude and directly standardized visit rates (DSVRs) per 100,000 individuals. Kaplan-Meier estimates for median estimated time to physician follow-up were calculated with 95% confidence intervals (CIs).
During the study period, visit rates decreased with the exception of children from families receiving government-sponsored program subsidy (DSVRs 163/100,000 to 250/100,000; p=0.032). First Nations children had disproportionately fewer follow-up visits compared to other children. The median time to follow-up for First Nations children was 39 days (95% CI: 32, 48) compared to 16 days for children from families receiving no subsidy (95% CI: 14, 19), who had the shortest follow-up time after an ED visit.
Sociodemographic differences were evident in ED visit rates as well as the number of and time to physician follow-up visit. The disparities experienced by First Nations children in the follow-up period highlight an opportunity for culturally-grounded risk and needs assessment in the ED to determine and facilitate timely and appropriate follow-up care.
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