Pediatric critical procedures in the emergency department

Article information

Clin Exp Emerg Med. 2020;7(3):241-242
Publication date (electronic) : 2020 September 30
doi :
Division of Emergency Medicine, Department of Emergency Medicine and Pediatrics, Boston Children’s Hospital, Harvard Medical School, Boston, MA, USA
Correspondence to: Ashley Alexandra Foster Division of Emergency Medicine, Department of Emergency Medicine and Pediatrics, Boston Children’s Hospital, Harvard Medical School, BCH 3066, 300 Longwood Ave, Boston, MA 02115, USA E-mail:
Received 2020 May 7; Revised 2020 June 3; Accepted 2020 June 16.

Dear Editor,

We have read the article by Cabalatungan et al. [1] published in Clinical and Experimental Emergency Medicine with great interest. In this study, data from the National Hospital Ambulatory Medical Care Survey between 2010 and 2014 was used to identify adult and pediatric patients undergoing critical procedures in the emergency department (ED) and estimated a single emergency physician performed pediatric central line insertion, cardiopulmonary resuscitation, and endotracheal intubation once every 3.2, 5.2, and 2.8 years, respectively. The authors concluded that general emergency physicians perform these procedures at a significantly lower rate compared to the same critical procedures on adult patients [1]. We agree that this article highlights a fundamentally important finding—the infrequency of pediatric critical procedures in the ED setting.

This study lays the groundwork but does not answer the question—where and how frequent are pediatric critical procedures performed in an emergency setting? We hypothesize that there may be a particular hospital and ED types where critical pediatric procedures may be even less frequently performed than Cabalatungan et al. [1] suggest. This is partly because the National Hospital Ambulatory Medical Care Survey data set includes representation from both general hospitals and freestanding pediatric facilities [2]. Due to the possibility of uneven distribution of these procedures across different hospital types, physicians working within certain hospitals may perform critical procedures in children even less frequently while other physicians within freestanding pediatric facilities may have performed the majority of the procedures in the database. Future research and sub-analysis of procedures by ED type is warranted. This information will allow for identification of emergency physicians that are at highest risk for pediatric skill decay.

While the percentage of pediatric critical procedures performed in pediatric EDs is unknown, it is clear that they also happen infrequently. In one study, a pediatric ED reported that 63% of pediatric emergency physicians did not perform any successful endotracheal intubations in a 12-month period [3]. An additional study noted within a single pediatric ED, chest compressions are performed a median of 3 minutes per pediatric emergency physician, per year [4]. The deficit may be further exacerbated in an academic setting, where faculty frequently take a supervisory rather than hands-on role in procedural performance.

As a result, alternative experiences to keep procedural skills up-to-date and demonstrate skill maintenance are equally necessary for both pediatric emergency physicians and emergency physicians. Some of these alternative experiences may include: procedural courses, simulation, deliberate practice with appropriate feedback, or practice within different clinical settings such as the operating room [1,5]. As it seems that pediatric critical procedures may be rare events regardless of practice environment, working together to optimize the skills of emergency physicians and pediatric emergency physicians is a critical next step as we continue to expand and encourage pediatric readiness in all EDs in the United States.


No potential conflict of interest relevant to this article was reported.


1. Cabalatungan SN, Thode HC, Singer AJ. Emergency medicine physicians infrequently perform pediatric critical procedures: a national perspective. Clin Exp Emerg Med 2020;7:52–60.
2. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Ambulatory health care data [Internet] Atlanta, GA: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; 2020. [cited 2020 May 1]. Available from:
3. Mittiga MR, Geis GL, Kerrey BT, Rinderknecht AS. The spectrum and frequency of critical procedures performed in a pediatric emergency department: implications of a providerlevel view. Ann Emerg Med 2013;61:263–70.
4. Donoghue A, Abbadessa MK, Hsieh TC, Frankenberger W, Myers S. How much cardiopulmonary resuscitation does a pediatric emergency provider perform in 1 year? A video-based analysis. Pediatr Emerg Care 2020;36:327–31.
5. Craig SS, Auerbach M, Cheek JA, et al. Preferred learning modalities and practice for critical skills: a global survey of paediatric emergency medicine clinicians. Emerg Med J 2019;36:273–80.

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