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Provider Responses to Positive Developmental Screening: Disparities in Referral Practices?

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OBJECTIVES: Guidelines recommend universal screening for developmental concerns in young children in pediatric primary care, with referral to early intervention (EI) as early as possible for children with a positive screen. However, participation in EI differs by child race, ethnicity, language, and sex. This study evaluated disparities in rates of referral to EI and estimated the factors associated with referral before and immediately after a positive developmental screen. METHODS: Children seen in a large primary care network that has implemented universal developmental screening were included if they screened positive on the Survey of Well-being of Young Children (SWYC) Milestones during a 16- to 30-month well-child visit (n = 7358). Demographics, screening results, and referrals were extracted from the electronic health record. RESULTS: Among children who screened positive, 17.5% were already in EI, and 39.9% were referred to EI during the visit with positive screen; 42.5% were not referred. In adjusted regression, the following factors were associated with being in EI before the positive screen: lower SWYC score and being male, older, and White. The following factors were associated with new referral to EI during a visit with positive SWYC: having lower SWYC score or lower income and being male, older, and Black race. CONCLUSION: The finding that White children were more likely referred before developmental screening and non-White children more likely referred at the time of positive screen suggests that screening decreases disparities by increasing referral for children with developmental delays from traditionally underserved backgrounds.


Wallis KE, Davis Rivera LB, Guthrie W, Bennett AE, Mandell DS, Miller JS