The role of physician assistants in a pediatric emergency department: a center review and survey

Pediatr Emerg Care. 2012 Aug;28(8):783-8. doi: 10.1097/PEC.0b013e3182627ce5.


Objectives: The objectives of this study were to outline the clinical conditions presenting to a Canadian pediatric emergency department (ED), survey the opinions of physician assistants (PAs) and emergency pediatricians to determine which conditions they consider could be managed by PAs, and to estimate the proportion of the total pediatric ED volume that PAs could potentially manage.

Methods: We reviewed the 2007 British Columbia Children's Hospital database of ED visits to identify clinical presentation and chief complaint of all patients seen. International Classification of Diseases, 10th Revision codes were used to categorize the presenting complaint of each ED visit. Following categorization, the results were discussed by a focus group composed of pediatric emergency medicine-trained physicians and PAs, to review the list of chief complaints. We then surveyed via e-mailed questionnaire a group of emergency pediatricians (n = 17) and PAs (n = 5) to seek their opinion on the categories of clinical presentation appropriate for PA management.

Results: Of 38,722 visits, 9.2% were triaged as "resuscitation" or "emergent." We sorted the remaining 35,077 ED visits into 57 clinical categories. More than 85% of respondents selected 30 clinical categories for PA management with physician supervision, representing 74% of the total ED volume. Of these, 3 were also deemed appropriate for PA management without direct physician supervision. There were statistically significant differences in mean length of stay, waiting time, and admission rates between the clinical conditions selected for PA involvement. However, the difference in waiting time was not clinically meaningful.

Conclusions: A large proportion of pediatric ED visits are designated as semiurgent or nonurgent. Clinicians (ED physicians and PAs) thought that the majority of these ED visits could be managed by PAs.

MeSH terms

  • Attitude of Health Personnel
  • British Columbia
  • Emergency Service, Hospital*
  • Focus Groups
  • Humans
  • Length of Stay / statistics & numerical data
  • Medical Staff, Hospital
  • Patient Admission / statistics & numerical data
  • Pediatrics*
  • Physician Assistants / statistics & numerical data*
  • Professional Role*
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Workforce