Introduction: Evidence from randomized controlled trials (RCTs) is required to guide treatment of critically ill children, but the number of RCTs available is limited and the publications are often difficult to find. The objectives of this review were to systematically identify RCTs in pediatric critical care and describe their methods and reporting.
Methods: We searched MEDLINE, EMBASE, LILACS and CENTRAL (from inception to April 16, 2013) and reference lists of included RCTs and relevant systematic reviews. We included published RCTs administering any intervention to children in a pediatric ICU. We excluded trials conducted in neonatal ICUs, those enrolling exclusively preterm infants, and individual patient crossover trials. Pairs of reviewers independently screened studies for eligibility, assessed risk of bias, and abstracted data. Discrepancies were resolved by consensus.
Results: We included 248 RCTs: 45 (18%) were multicentered and 14 (6%) were multinational. Trials most frequently enrolled both medical and surgical patients (43%) but postoperative cardiac surgery was the single largest population studied (19%). The most frequently evaluated types of intervention were medications (63%), devices (11%) and nutrition (8%). Laboratory or physiological measurements were the most frequent type of primary outcomes (18%). Half of these trials (50%) reported blinding. Of the 107 (43%) trials that reported an a priori sample size, 34 (32%) were stopped early. The median number of children randomized per trial was 49 and ranged from 6 to 4,947. The frequency of RCT publications increased at a mean rate of 0.7 RCTs per year (P<0.001) from 1 to 20 trials per year.
Conclusions: This scoping review identified the available RCTs in pediatric critical care and made them accessible to clinicians and researchers (http://epicc.mcmaster.ca). Most focused on medications and intermediate or surrogate outcomes, were single-centered and were conducted in North America and Western Europe. The results of this review underscore the need for trials with rigorous methodology, appropriate outcome measures, and improved quality of reporting to ensure that high quality evidence exists to support clinical decision-making in this vulnerable population.