Optimizing the workforce: a proposal to improve regionalization of care and emergency preparedness by broader integration of pediatric emergency physicians certified by the American Board of Pediatrics

J Am Coll Emerg Physicians Open. 2020 Jul 8;1(6):1520-1526. doi: 10.1002/emp2.12114. eCollection 2020 Dec.


Background: Emergency care in the United States faces notable challenges with regard to children. In some jurisdictions, available resources are not sufficient to meet local needs. Physicians with specialty training in pediatric emergency care are largely concentrated in children's medical centers within larger urban areas. Rural emergency facilities, which are more likely to face ongoing staffing shortages in all specialties, are particularly deficient in pediatric emergency medicine (PEM) physicians. This paper addresses challenges in distribution of pediatric emergency care specialists into suburban and rural health care facilities, and proposes potential local and regional solutions to improve pediatric emergency care capabilities as well as to enhance disaster response in children.

Objectives: The American College of Emergency Physicians (ACEP) committee on PEM generated the objective to study and explore methods and strategies to address current challenges and shortcomings in the distribution of pediatric emergency physicians and to develop recommendations to improve access to emergency pediatric expertise in all care settings. A sub-committee was formed to generate a written report followed by full committee input. The content was reviewed by the ACEP Board of Directors.

Discussion: Pediatric emergency physicians are certified either by the American Board of Emergency Medicine or the American Board of Pediatrics (ABP) depending on whether their training occurred through the emergency medicine or a pediatric residency program. ABP-certified PEM that account for the majority of PEM physicians, remain largely concentrated in urban tertiary pediatric care centers, primarily children's hospitals. By contrast to the resources, the majority of pediatric patients receive emergency care in emergency departments (EDs) outside this setting. The goal of our recommendations is to help regionalize PEM expertise, allowing sharing of such resources with facilities that have traditionally not had access to PEM expertise. Financial or low number of pediatric cases likely contributed to lack of PEM resources in suburban and rural EDs, although a significant factor for lack of access to ABP-certified PEM physicians may be local privilege and practice restrictions. Expanding the scope of practice for ABP-certified PEM physicians beyond traditionally assigned arbitrary age limits to include selective adult patients has the potential to alleviate credentialing barriers and offset the financial and volume concerns while enhancing preparedness efforts, resource utilization, and access to specialized pediatric emergency care.

Conclusion: Recognition that the training of ABP-certified PEM physicians allows for these individuals to safely care for selective adult patients with common disease patterns that extend beyond traditionally assigned arbitrary pediatric age limits has the potential to improve resource dissemination and utilization, allowing for greater access to pediatric emergency physicians in currently underserved settings.

Keywords: community; pediatric care; pediatric emergency medicine; pediatric preparedness; regionalization; rural health care; specialty care; underserved populations.