Referral communication for pediatric intensive care unit admission and the diagnosis of critically ill children: A pilot ethnography

J Crit Care. 2021 Jun;63:246-249. doi: 10.1016/j.jcrc.2020.09.011. Epub 2020 Sep 18.


Purpose: The effect of communication between referring and accepting clinicians during patient transitions to the pediatric intensive care unit (PICU) on diagnostic quality is largely unknown. This pilot study aims to determine the feasibility of using focused ethnography to understand the relationship between referral communication and the diagnostic process for critically ill children.

Materials and methods: We conducted focused ethnography in an academic tertiary referral PICU by directly observing the referral and admission of 3 non-electively admitted children 0-17 years old. We also conducted 21 semi-structured interviews of their parents and admitting PICU staff (intensivists, fellows/residents, medical students, nurses, and respiratory therapists) and reviewed their medical records post-discharge.

Results: Performing focused ethnography in a busy PICU is feasible. We identified three areas for additional exploration: (1) how information transfer affects the PICU diagnostic process; (2) how uncertainty in patient assessment affects the decision to transfer to the PICU; and (3) how the PICU team's expectations are influenced by referral communication.

Conclusions: Focused ethnography in the PICU is feasible to investigate relationships between clinician referral communication and the diagnostic process for critically ill children.

Keywords: Communication; Critical care; Diagnosis; Diagnostic error; Ethnography; Pediatrics.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Aftercare*
  • Anthropology, Cultural
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Communication
  • Critical Illness*
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Intensive Care Units, Pediatric
  • Patient Discharge
  • Pilot Projects
  • Referral and Consultation