Youngsters with Autism More Likely to Visit Hospital Emergency Wards: Statisticians Believe
Youngsters with ASD are found to use emergency department services four times more often than their neurotypical peers, according to a recent study by researchers from Penn State College of Medicine. The findings stress the need for better access to speciality services for autistic individuals.
To carry out the study, the researchers browsed through copies of private insurance claims from 2005 to 2013. Adolescents in the age bracket of 12 to 21 years old were the target of the study. It was found that these kids received diagnoses at different intervals. Additionally, this was found to be of benefit as it decreased the chances of misdiagnosis.
Interestingly, there was no increase in autism rates during the period of the study, although a five-fold increase in emergency department visits was observed. The visits rose from 3 percent in 2005 to a staggering 16 percent in 2016. Their non-autistic peers were found to have maintained a ratio of 3 percent during this entire time frame. This report was highlighted in the Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders.
Risks were found to increase at least four times in individuals with autism in comparison to their non-autistic peers. The visits were not limited to youngsters; older adolescents also experienced a significant number of visits to emergency care. Researchers also looked at this from a gender point of view, and noted that females had a higher chance of visiting emergency care than their male counterparts. The risks rose further for people living in rural areas in comparison to urban areas.
It should also be noted that previous studies had also pointed towards autistic individuals visiting primary care doctors and specialists less frequently. These services were found to be underused or not adequately used, and individuals more often preferred visiting emergency services.
The study, authored by Guodong Liu, assistant professor at Public Health Sciences, raised concerns regarding the overuse of emergency services and underuse of regular services.
“We believe if their regular medical and behavioral specialist services served them better, a big portion of them would end up with fewer emergency-department visits,” he said.
Further, Liu said, variance could also be attributed to the puberty changes that take place in teens and into the early transition to adulthood. This is found to increase the difficulties in autistic individuals who are entering their adult years compared to their younger peers. Nevertheless, at times, parents and caretakers are not aware of the need for extra guidance and support, leading to a delay in preventive care.
Another disturbing fact is that individuals on the spectrum sometimes end up with self-inflicted injury during stressful times.
“The consequence is they’re more likely to end up in the emergency department,” Liu said.
Liu hopes the study will shed light on the importance of health care among autistic individuals, whom he described as under studied and underserved.
Liu further said that he looks forward to seeing more useful data on autistic individuals that will help society, as well as confirm his findings.
Liu has a background in data mining, which is helpful in searching for the many factors that could be highlighted and addressed to help in reducing emergency visits that often end up in hospitalizations.
For now, he says, “These patients need to be actively taken care of and monitored. There should be better communication between these adolescents and their caregivers and with their regular paediatricians and specialists. If we can do those kinds of things, we may help them have less frequent emergencies.”
Others who contributed to the study are Amanda M. Pearl and Michael J. Murray, Department of Psychiatry; Lan Kong, Division of Biostatistics and Bioinformatics, Department of Public Health Sciences; and Douglas L. Leslie, Division of Health Services and Behavioral Research, Department of Public Health Sciences, all from Penn State College of Medicine.