Office-Based Pediatricians Unprepared for Emergencies

Diana Swift

September 02, 2021

Emergency preparedness in U.S. pediatric offices is variable and less than ideal, especially in smaller independent practices, a 15-month multicenter study has found.

Dr Kamal Abulebda

Researchers led by Kamal Abulebda, MD, associate professor of clinical pediatrics in the division of pediatric critical care medicine at Indiana University and Riley Hospital for Children in Indianapolis, report that adherence to the 2007 policy statement of the American Academy of Pediatrics on emergency preparedness in pediatric primary care offices was suboptimal across 42 offices in 9 states. They suggest that academic and community partnerships use in-situ simulation exercises to address preparedness gaps and implement standard procedures for contacting emergency medical services.

The group’s findings were published online in Pediatrics. "These data can be used to guide the development of interventions to improve emergency preparedness and care delivery in pediatric offices, Abulebda and coauthors wrote, noting that theirs is the first multicenter study to directly measure preparedness and quality of care in pediatric offices.

According to the authors, the incidence of a child’s requiring emergent stabilization in an individual office ranges from weekly to monthly, with seizures and respiratory distress being the most common events.

The study was conducted from 2018 to 2020 by 48 national teams participating in in-situ simulated sessions in the ambulatory setting. Office teams, recruited from practices by members of regional academic medical centers, included two patients – a child with respiratory distress and a child with a seizure. Almost 40% were from Indiana.

The scenarios and checklists for the mock exercises were created by content experts in pediatric emergency medicine and critical care using evidence-based guidelines and best practices.

Previous research has relied on self-reported surveys rather than direct measurement to assess adherence to the AAP guidelines, the authors say. In-person surveys assessed adherence to AAP recommendations for emergency preparedness. In-person surveys were, however, used to gauge adherence to AAP recommendations for emergency preparedness.


The overall mean emergency preparedness score was 74.7% (standard deviation [SD] 12.9), with an unweighted percentage of adherence to checklists calculated for each case. By emergency type, the median asthma case performance score was 63.6% (interquartile range [IQR] 43.2-81.2), and the median seizure case score was 69.2% (IQR 46.2-80.8).

On the measure of essential equipment and supplies, the mean subscore (relating to availability of such items as oxygen sources, suction devices, and epinephrine, for example) was 82.2% (SD 15.1).

As for recommended policies and protocols (e.g., regular assessment of the office, maintenance of emergency equipment and medications) the mean subscore fell to 57.1% (SD 25.6).

In multivariable analyses, offices with a standardized procedure for contacting EMS had a higher rate of activating that service during the simulations.

Independent practices and smaller total staff size were associated with lower preparedness compared with larger groups: beta = –11.89, 95% confidence interval [CI], 19.33-4.45).

Higher annual patient volume and larger total staff size were slightly associated with higher scores (beta = .001, 95% CI, .00-001, P = .017; and beta = .51, 95% CI, .19-.83, P = .002, respectively).

Affiliation with an academic medical center and the presence of learners were not associated with higher scores. And in multivariable regression, a higher annual patient volume lost its significant association with greater preparedness.

So why the lag in preparedness despite the long-standing AAP recommendations? "It’s most likely due to the rare occurrence of these emergencies in the office setting, in addition to most offices’ dependence on EMS when they encounter pediatric emergencies in their setting," Abulebda said in an interview. "A 2018 study published by Yuknis and associates demonstrated that the average time from EMS notification to arrival on scene was just 6 minutes."

In other study findings, 82% of offices did not have an infant bag valve mask and would therefore need to wait for EMS to administer lifesaving ventilation. "This highlights the need to have this equipment available and maintain the skills necessary to care for patients in respiratory distress, the most common emergency encountered in the office setting," Abulebda and associates wrote.

A cardiac arrest board is another example of a potentially lifesaving piece of equipment that was not available in the majority of offices, likely because of the rarity of this event in the office setting, but lack of this item may result in poor cardiopulmonary resuscitation quality before the arrival of EMS.

Dr Jesse Hackell

In an accompanying editorial, Jesse Hackell, MD, a pediatrician at Boston Children’s Health Physicians and New York Medical College in Pomona, N.Y., noted that data from 2 decades ago suggested that many pediatric offices saw multiple children requiring emergency intervention each week. More recent figures, however, indicate the situation has evolved, with fewer than 1% of current pediatric EMS transports originating from the office setting.

Hackell agrees that implementation of AAP recommendations has been far from universal and cites the cost of equipment and supplies as well as a lack of access to training and evaluation as significant barriers to implementation. "In addition, the infrequent occurrence of these emergencies makes maintenance of resuscitation skills even more difficult without frequent practice," he wrote.

Further complicating the issue, preparedness needs vary with practice location, the response time of local EMS, and proximity to an emergency department. "Pediatric offices in more rural areas, which are farther from these services, will require more equipment and more skills to provide optimal emergency care to children living in these underresourced areas," he wrote.

He called for equitable distribution of preparedness training, equipment, and staffing, with guidance designed to meet patient needs and ensure optimal outcomes. "In discussion of recommendations, one should consider the likely conditions requiring this response, availability of resources beyond the pediatric office, and ongoing training and support needed to maintain provider skills at the level needed for a successful response to any pediatric emergency," Hackell wrote.

This study was supported by grants from Indiana University Health Values and the RBaby Foundation. One study coauthor is a board observer of a medical device company. No other authors disclosed financial relationships relevant to this work. Hackell has disclosed having no competing interests.

This article originally appeared on, part of the Medscape Professional Network.


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