Predictive Value of Clinician "Gestalt" in Pediatric Community-Acquired Pneumonia

Pediatrics. 2021 May;147(5):e2020041582. doi: 10.1542/peds.2020-041582.


Objectives: Validated prognostic tools for pediatric community-acquired pneumonia (CAP) do not exist. Thus, clinicians rely on "gestalt" in management decisions for children with CAP. We sought to determine the ability of clinician gestalt to predict severe outcomes.

Methods: We performed a prospective cohort study of children 3 months to 18 years old presenting to a pediatric emergency department (ED) with lower respiratory infection and receiving a chest radiograph for suspected CAP from 2013 to 2017. Clinicians reported the probability that the patient would develop severe complications of CAP (defined as respiratory failure, empyema or effusion, lung abscess or necrosis, metastatic infection, sepsis or septic shock, or death). The primary outcome was development of severe complications.

Results: Of 634 children, 37 (5.8%) developed severe complications. Of children developing severe complications after the ED visit, 62.1% were predicted as having <10% risk by the ED clinician. Sensitivity was >90% at the <1% predicted risk threshold, whereas specificity was >90% at the 10% risk threshold. Gestalt performance was poor in the low-intermediate predicted risk category (1%-10%). Clinicians had only fair ability to discriminate children developing complications from those who did not (area under the receiver operator characteristic curve 0.747), with worse performance from less experienced clinicians (area under the receiver operator characteristic curve 0.693).

Conclusions: Clinicians have only fair ability to discriminate children with CAP who develop severe complications from those who do not. Clinician gestalt performs best at very low or higher predicted risk thresholds, yet many children fall in the low-moderate predicted risk range in which clinician gestalt is limited. Evidence-based prognostic tools likely can improve on clinician gestalt, particularly when risk is low-moderate.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Clinical Decision-Making*
  • Cohort Studies
  • Community-Acquired Infections / diagnosis
  • Community-Acquired Infections / therapy
  • Female
  • Gestalt Theory
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Male
  • Pneumonia / diagnosis*
  • Pneumonia / microbiology
  • Pneumonia / therapy*
  • Prognosis
  • Prospective Studies