Background: 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. Methods: 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. Results: 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. Conclusions: 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.
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