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Pediatr Emerg Care. 2013 Apr;29(4):419-24. doi: 10.1097/PEC.0b013e318289d7c1.

Early identification of children at risk for critical care: standardizing communication for inter-emergency department transfers.

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Division of Emergency Medicine, Department of Anesthesia, Boston Children's Hospital, Boston, MA, USA.



Interfacility transfers occur frequently and often involve critically ill patients. Clear communication at the time of patient referral is essential for patient safety.


The objective of this work was to study whether a standardized inter-emergency department (ED) transfer communication template for pediatric patients with respiratory complaints identifies patients that require intensive care unit (ICU) admission.


We created a template to structure the communication between referring and receiving providers involved in inter-ED transfers of children with respiratory complaints. The template was designed for use by nonphysicians to prompt specific questions that would trigger notification of the ED attending based on signs of critical illness. The template was retrospectively applied to determine whether it would have properly triggered attending physician notification of a child ultimately requiring ICU admission.


Of 285 transferred children, 61 (21%) were admitted to an ICU from the receiving ED. The sensitivity of the communication template in predicting the need for ICU admission was 84% (95% confidence interval [CI], 72%-92%), negative predictive value of 95% (95% CI, 90%-97%), specificity of 77% (95% CI, 71%-82%), positive predictive value of 50% (95% CI, 40%-60%). Of the 10 patients admitted to an ICU who were not identified by the tool, none were critically ill upon arrival. Of the individual communication elements, the sensitivity and negative predictive value ranged from 3% to 38% and from 79% to 86%, respectively.


A standardized communication template for inter-ED transfers can identify children with respiratory complaints who require ICU admission. Next steps include real-time application to judge screening performance compared with current nonstandardized intake protocols.

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