Introduction: Health systems offer access to unscheduled care through numerous routes; however, it is typically provided by general practitioners (GPs), by emergency medicine doctors in in emergency departments (EDs) and by GPs in out-of-hours GP services such as practitioner cooperatives. Unscheduled healthcare constitutes a substantial portion of healthcare delivery. A systematic review was conducted to establish the factors that influence parents' decision making when seeking unscheduled healthcare for their children. The systematic review question was "What are the factors that influence the decision making of parents and families seeking unscheduled paediatric healthcare?"
Method: Five databases (CINAHL, PubMed, SCOPUS, PsycInfo, EconLit) and four grey literature databases (Proquest, Lenus, OpenGrey, Google Scholar) were searched. The titles and abstracts of 3746 articles were screened and full-text screening was performed on 177 of these articles. Fifty-six papers were selected for inclusion in the review. Data relating to different types of unscheduled health services (namely primary care, the emergency department and out-of-hours services) were extracted from these articles. A narrative approach was used to synthesise the extracted data.
Results: Several factors were identified as influencing parental preferences and decision making when seeking unscheduled healthcare for their children. A number of the included studies identified pre-disposing factors such as race, ethnicity and socioeconomic status (SES) as impacting the healthcare-seeking behaviour of parents. Unscheduled healthcare use was often initiated by the parent's perception that the child's condition was urgent and their need for reassurance. The choice of unscheduled service was influenced by a myriad of factors such as: waiting times, availability of GP appointments, location of the ED, and the relationship that the parent or caregiver had with their GP.
Conclusion: Policy and planning initiatives do not always reflect how patients negotiate the health system as a single entity with numerous entry points. Altering patients' behaviour through public health initiatives that seek to improve, for instance, health literacy or reducing emergency hospital admissions through preventative primary care requires an understanding of the relative importance of factors that influence behaviour and decision making, and the interactions between these factors.