BACKGROUND: Urinary tract infections (UTIs) occur commonly in children and may lead to substantial morbidity. Most experts recommend urine cultures for diagnosing UTIs in children. In addition, most experts recommend imaging studies in a portion of children diagnosed with UTIs. PURPOSE: The purpose of this study was to assess how rates of performance of urine cultures and imaging studies for children in the Alabama Medicaid program diagnosed with a UTI vary by patient demographics, provider characteristics, and service locations. METHODS: The study design was a retrospective review of Alabama Medicaid claims data. Children were included as UTI cases if they had a Medicaid claim for urinary tract infections during 1991, were continuously enrolled in Medicaid for that year, and were younger than 8 years of age. Claims were grouped into episodes of care, and episodes were assigned to a diagnosing physician. Physician locations were classified as rural, suburban, or urban using demographic data. Specific laboratory and imaging procedures were identified using CPT codes (Physician's Current Procedural Technology Codes, 4th Edition). RESULTS: We identified 404 episodes of UTI occurring in 380 children. Only 47% of episodes were associated with claims for urine cultures. Claims for urine cultures were more frequently filed by pediatricians in urban locations. In the subset of 114 patients with multiple UTI episodes, only 68% had imaging studies specific for the urinary tract. Only 44% received both a voiding cystourethrogram and renal ultrasound. CONCLUSIONS: Claims data suggest that physicians underuse urine cultures in diagnosing UTIs in Alabama pediatric Medicaid recipients. Urban-based pediatricians perform better than other types of physicians. Imaging studies are also used less frequently than is commonly recommended.