Research suggests health care disparities in rural areas among children with autism

A team of researchers headed by DAHS research methodologist and Assistant Professor Wanqing Zhang, PhD, MD, has identified rural-urban differences and differences in the likelihood of emergency department (ED) visits for children with autism.

Their examination of data from ED visits in the United States from the 2009-2010 Nationwide Emergency Department Sample showed that 132,218 visits were associated with pediatric (three to 17 years) patients who had previously been diagnosed as having autism spectrum disorders (ASD). The average cost per ED visit for children with ASD was higher than that for children without ASD in all four U.S. census regions.  Approximately 15 percent of the children with ASD lived in rural areas and had a significantly higher likelihood of visiting the emergency department than did their urban counterparts, after adjusting for other demographic/clinical characteristics. Dr. Zhang led an interdisciplinary team that included Drs. Brian Boyd (OT), Linmarie Sikich (Psychiatry), Grace Baranek (OT), and graduate students Ashley Mason (OS) and Katie Williams (OS). The research was funded by the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA), with findings presented at the AcademyHealth’s Annual Research Meeting and at the 2015 Collaborative Autism Resources in Education meeting.

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