Caregiver Perspectives on Including Children in Alternative Emergency Medical Services Disposition Programs: A Qualitative Study

Document Type

Journal Article

Publication Date



Prehospital emergency care




OBJECTIVES: Almost half of pediatric EMS calls may be for low-acuity problems. Many EMS agencies have implemented alternative disposition programs for low-acuity patients, including transportation to clinics, substituting taxis for ambulances, and treatment in place without transport to an emergency department. Including children in such programs poses specific challenges, with one concern being potential caregiver opposition. Limited published evidence addresses caregiver perspectives on including children in alternative disposition programs. Our objective was to describe caregiver perspectives of alternative EMS disposition systems for low-acuity pediatric patients. METHODS: We conducted six virtual focus groups (one in Spanish) with caregivers. A PhD-trained facilitator moderated all groups using a semi-structured moderator guide. A hybrid inductive and deductive analytical strategy was used. Multiple investigators independently coded a deidentified sample transcript. One team member then completed axial coding of the remaining transcripts. Thematic saturation was achieved. Clusters of similar codes were grouped into themes by consensus. RESULTS: We recruited 38 participants. Participants had diverse race-ethnicity (39% non-Hispanic white, 29% non-Hispanic Black, and 26% Hispanic) and insurance status (42% Medicaid and 58% private health insurance). There was agreement that caregivers often utilize 9-1-1 for low-acuity complaints. Caregivers were generally supportive of alternative disposition programs, with some important caveats. Potential advantages of alternative dispositions included freeing up resources for more emergent cases, quicker access to care, and more cost-effective and patient-centered care. Caregivers had multiple concerns regarding the effects of alternative disposition programs, including timeliness in receiving care, capabilities of receiving sites (including pediatric expertise), and challenges to care coordination. Additional logistical concerns with alternative disposition programs for children included the safety of taxi services, the loss of parental autonomy, and the potential for inequitable implementation. CONCLUSIONS: Caregivers in our study generally supported alternative EMS dispositions for some children and identified multiple potential benefits of such programs for both children and the health care system. Caregivers were concerned about the safety and logistical details of how such programs would be implemented and wanted to retain final decision-making authority. Caregiver perspectives should be considered when designing and implementing alternative EMS disposition programs for children.