Sedation protocols in the pediatric intensive care unit: fact or fiction?

Transl Pediatr. 2021 Oct;10(10):2814-2824. doi: 10.21037/tp-20-328.


Comfort of the critically unwell pediatric patient is paramount to ensuring good outcomes. Analgesia-based, multimodal sedative approaches are the foundation for comfort, whereby pain is addressed first and then sedation titrated to a predefined target based on the goals of care. Given the heterogeneity of patients within the pediatric critical care population, the approach must be individualized based on the age and developmental stage of the child, physiologic status, and degree of invasive treatment required. In both the adult and pediatric intensive care unit (PICU), sedation titration is practiced as standard of care to meet therapeutic goals with a focus on facilitating early rehabilitation and extubation while avoiding under- and over-sedation. Sedation protocols have been developed as methods to reduce variability and optimize goal-directed therapy. Components of a sedation protocol include routine analgesia and sedation scoring with validated tools at specified intervals and a predefined algorithm that allows the titration of analgesia and sedation based on those assessments. Sedation protocols are designed to improve communication and documentation of sedation goals while also empowering the bedside team to respond rapidly to changes in a patient's clinical status. Previously it was thought that sedation protocols would consistently reduce duration of mechanical ventilation (MV) and length of stay (LOS) for patients in the PICU, however, this has not been the case. Nonetheless, introduction of sedation protocols has provided several benefits, including: (I) reduction in benzodiazepine usage; (II) improvements in interprofessional communication surrounding sedation goals and management of sedation goals; and (III) reductions in iatrogenic withdrawal symptoms. Successful implementation of sedation protocols requires passionate clinical champions and a robust implementation, education, and sustainability plan. Emerging evidence suggests that sedation protocols as part of a bundle of quality improvement initiatives will form the basis of future studies to improve short- and long-term outcomes after PICU discharge. In this review, we aim to define sedation protocols in the context of pediatric critical care and highlight important considerations for clinical practice and research.

Keywords: Clinical protocol; pediatric intensive care unit (PICU); sedatives.

Publication types

  • Review