Differences in designations of observation care in US freestanding children's hospitals: are they virtual or real?

J Hosp Med. 2012 Apr;7(4):287-93. doi: 10.1002/jhm.949. Epub 2011 Oct 26.


Objective: To characterize practices related to observation care and to examine the current models of pediatric observation medicine in US children's hospitals.

Design: We utilized 2 web-based surveys to examine observation care in the 42 hospitals participating in the Pediatric Health Information System database. We obtained information regarding the designation of observation status, including the criteria used to admit patients into observation. From hospitals reporting the use of observation status, we requested specific details relating to the structures of observation care and the processes of care for observation patients following emergency department treatment.

Results: A total of 37 hospitals responded to Survey 1, and 20 hospitals responded to Survey 2. Designated observation units were present in only 12 of 31 (39%) hospitals that report observation patient data to the Pediatric Health Information System. Observation status was variably defined in terms of duration of treatment and prespecified criteria. Observation periods were limited to <48 hours in 24 of 31 (77%) hospitals. Hospitals reported that various standards were used by different payers to determine observation status reimbursement. Observation care was delivered in a variety of settings. Most hospitals indicated that there were no differences in the clinical care delivered to virtual observation status patients when compared with other inpatients.

Conclusions: Observation is a variably applied patient status, defined differently by individual hospitals. Consistency in the designation of patients under observation status among hospitals and payers may be necessary to compare quality outcomes and costs, as well as optimize models of pediatric observation care.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Multicenter Study
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Data Collection / methods*
  • Emergency Service, Hospital*
  • Follow-Up Studies
  • Hospitalization*
  • Hospitals, Pediatric*
  • Humans
  • Patient Care / methods*
  • United States