Background: Although all emergency departments (EDs) should be ready to treat children, some may have illnesses or injuries that require higher-level pediatric resources that are not available at all hospitals. There are no national guidelines for emergency medical services (EMS) providers about when to directly transport children to hospitals with higher-level pediatric resources, with the exception of severe trauma. Variability exists in EMS protocols about when children warrant transport to hospitals with higher-level pediatric care.
Objective: The objective was to determine how frequently pediatric patients are transported by EMS to hospitals with higher-level pediatric resources and to evaluate distribution patterns based on illness and injury severity.
Methods: We conducted a retrospective analysis of all pediatric (age 0-18 years) transports in three large EMS systems between November 2014 and November 2016. Each community had a hospital with higher-level pediatric resources that was within a 30-minute transport time from any location. Patients were included if they were transported by ground ambulance and the request originated in the 9-1-1 system. We assessed the frequency of transports to a hospital with higher-level pediatric resources. Data were stratified by chief complaint of illness or injury and severity. Potential risk for severe injury was defined as meeting the physiologic step of the field triage guidelines and potential risk for severe illness was defined as having an abnormal vital sign after adjusting for patient age.
Results: A total of 41,345 pediatric patients were transported by a participating EMS agency to an ED and had complete destination data. A total of 55% of all EMS-transported pediatric patients were transported to a hospital with higher-level pediatric resources. There was variation by site (range = 45%-71%) in the percentage of children who went to a hospital with higher-level pediatric resources. Patients over 15 years of age went to general EDs (57%) more often than younger patients. When stratified by severity, 60% of those with potentially severe illness and 74% of those with potentially severe trauma were transported to a hospital with higher-level pediatric resources.
Conclusions: EMS providers commonly transport children to hospitals with higher-level pediatric resources. However, more than one-quarter of children with potentially severe injuries and illnesses are transported to general EDs.
© 2018 by the Society for Academic Emergency Medicine.