"These Are Our Kids": Qualitative Interviews With Clinical Leaders in General Emergency Departments on Motivations, Processes, and Guidelines in Pediatric Sepsis Care

Ann Emerg Med. 2022 Oct;80(4):347-357. doi: 10.1016/j.annemergmed.2022.05.030. Epub 2022 Jul 13.


Study objective: Sepsis is a leading cause of pediatric death requiring emergency resuscitation. Most children with sepsis are treated in general emergency departments (EDs); however, research has focused on pediatric EDs. We sought to identify barriers and facilitators to pediatric sepsis care in general EDs, including care processes, the role of guidelines, and incentivized metrics.

Methods: In this qualitative study, we conducted semistructured interviews with key informant physician and nurse leaders overseeing pediatric sepsis in general EDs in 2021, including medical directors, nurse managers, and quality coordinators. Interviews were audio-recorded, transcribed, and coded using deductive domains based on steps of sepsis care, pediatric readiness, and structural dynamics. Domains were analyzed across interviews in matrices, using thematic analysis within domains.

Results: Twenty-one clinical leaders representing 26 hospitals, including trauma levels I to IV, were interviewed. The themes included the following: (1) motivation to improve pediatric sepsis care based on moral imperative and location; (2) need for actionable pediatric sepsis guidelines; (3) children's hospitals' role in education, protocols, transfer, and consultation; and (4) mixed feelings about reportable metrics, particularly in EDs with low pediatric volume. Sepsis care process challenges included diagnosis, intravenous access, and antibiotic delivery but varied among hospitals.

Conclusion: Leaders in general EDs were motivated to provide high-quality pediatric sepsis care but disagreed on whether reportable metrics would drive improvements. They universally sought direct support from their nearest children's hospitals and actionable guidelines. Efforts to address pediatric sepsis quality in general EDs should prioritize guideline design, responsive pediatric transfer and consultation systems, and locally specific process improvement.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Anti-Bacterial Agents
  • Child
  • Emergency Service, Hospital
  • Hospitals, Pediatric
  • Humans
  • Motivation*
  • Sepsis* / therapy


  • Anti-Bacterial Agents