Care of children with medical complexity in the hospital setting

Pediatr Ann. 2014 Jul;43(7):e157-62. doi: 10.3928/00904481-20140619-09.


Children with medical complexity are a subset of patients with special health care needs whose "health and quality of life depend on integrating health care between a primary care medical home, tertiary care services, and other important loci of care such as transitional care facilities, rehabilitation units, the home, the school, and other community based settings," according to Cohen et al. These children are characterized by (1) substantial health care service needs, (2) one or more severe chronic clinical condition(s), (3) severe functional limitations, and (4) high projected use of health resources that may include frequent or prolonged hospitalization, multiple surgeries, or the ongoing involvement of multiple subspecialty services and providers. Children with medical complexity are an important population for pediatric hospitalists, particularly those practicing in tertiary care settings. Recent studies describe the increasing prevalence of complex chronic conditions among all pediatric hospitalizations in the United States. This article reviews the definitions of children with medical complexity and recent studies describing the changes in hospital utilization for this group. We discuss issues in their inpatient care, including (1) intensive care coordination needs, (2) critical decision-making that occurs in the inpatient setting, (3) common clinical issues that occur with technology dependence (tracheostomies, feeding tubes, and cerebrospinal fluid shunts), and (4) common reasons for admission (eg, perioperative care, aspiration pneumonia, seizures, and feeding intolerance). Finally, we present a few important clinical questions regarding inpatient care for children with medical complexity that will require research in the coming years.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Child
  • Child Health Services / methods*
  • Child, Preschool
  • Chronic Disease / therapy*
  • Delivery of Health Care / methods*
  • Disabled Children*
  • Health Services Needs and Demand*
  • Hospitalization
  • Hospitals, Pediatric
  • Humans
  • Quality of Life*