Critical Medicine

group of teenagers sitting on a wall

Better PID management for adolescents in the ED

group of teenagers sitting on a wall

Since adolescents account for half of all new sexually transmitted infection (STI) diagnoses, increasing screening rates for STIs in the emergency department could have a tremendous impact.

Emergency departments at U.S. children’s hospitals had low rates of complying with recommended HIV and syphilis screening for at-risk adolescents, though larger hospitals  were more likely to provide such evidence-based care, according to a study led by Monika Goyal, M.D., M.S.C.E., director of research in the Division of Emergency Medicine at Children’s National Health System.

Presented during the 2017 American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) national conference, the study also found low compliance with CDC recommendations for antibiotic treatment of adolescents diagnosed with pelvic inflammatory disease (PID), a complication of undiagnosed or undertreated sexually transmitted infection that can signal heightened risk for syphilis or HIV.

“Adolescents account for half of all new sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and often view the emergency department (ED) as the primary place to receive health care. If we are able to increase screening rates for sexually transmitted infections in the ED setting, we could have a tremendous impact on the STI epidemic,” Dr. Goyal says.

Although gonorrhea and chlamydia are implicated in most cases of PID, The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommend that all women diagnosed with PID be screened for HIV and also recommends syphilis screening for all people at high risk for infection. The research team conducted a cross-sectional study using a database that captures details from 48 children’s hospitals to determine how often the CDC’s recommendations are carried out within the nation’s EDs.

The research team combed through records from 2010 to 2015 to identify all ED visits by adolescent women younger than 21 and found 10,698 PID diagnoses. The girls’ mean age was 16.7. Nearly 54 percent were non-Latino black, and 37.8 percent ultimately were hospitalized.

“It is encouraging that testing for other sexually transmitted infections, such as gonorrhea and chlamydia, occurred for more than 80 percent of patients diagnosed with PID. Unfortunately, just 27.7 percent of these young women underwent syphilis screening, and only 22 percent were screened for HIV,” Dr. Goyal says.

premature baby in hospital incubator

Improving neonatal intubation training to boost clinical competency

premature baby in hospital incubator

A research team from Children’s National Health System outlined gaps between current simulation training and clinical competency among pediatric residents and then shared recommendations to address them.

Redesigning the mannequins used in medical simulation training could improve residents’ readiness for clinical practice. Presenting at the 2017 American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) national conference, a research team from Children’s National Health System outlined gaps between current simulation training and clinical competency among pediatric residents and then shared recommendations to address them.

The team noted that the transfer of skill from simulations to clinical encounters does not occur readily. They identified a number of differences between working with a training mannequin and caring for an actual infant: The mannequin’s tongue and head do not move naturally, no fluid lubricates its mouth and throat and, when tilting the head to insert the endotracheal tube, the mannequin’s neck does not flex realistically.

“Current mannequins lack physical and functional fidelity and those shortcomings take a toll on competency as pediatric residents transition from practice simulation sessions to the actual clinic,” says Children’s National Neonatologist Lamia Soghier, M.D., lead author of the poster presented during AAP. “Our work tried to tease out the most important differences between simulating neonatal intubation and actual clinical practice in order to ensure the next generation of mannequins and practice sessions translate to improved clinical competency.”

The study team conducted in-depth interviews with 32 members of the clinical staff, including attending neonatologists and second- and third-year fellows, asking about critical differences in environment, equipment and context as they participated in practice intubations as well as actual intubations in the clinic.

Four key themes emerged, Dr. Soghier and co-authors say:

  • Mannequins’ vocal cords are marked clearly in white, a give-away for trainees tasked with correctly identifying the anatomical feature. In addition, the mannequins are so stiff they need more force when practicing how to position them properly. In the NICU, using that much force could result in trauma.
  • Because current equipment does not simulate color change with a Pedi-Capa non-toxic chemical that changes color in response to exhaled carbon dioxidetrainees can develop poor habits.
  • Training scenarios need to be designed with the learner in mind offering an opportunity to master tasks in a step-by-step fashion, to practice appropriate sedation techniques and for beginners to learn first before being timed.
  • There is a marked mismatch between the feel of a simulated training and the electric urgency of performing the same procedure in the clinic, eroding trainees’ ability to adjust to wildcards in the clinic in real time.

“We carefully design our sessions to provide trainees with the suite of skills they will need to perform well in clinic. Still, there is more we can do inside the hospital and in designing the next generation of mannequins to lead to optimal clinical outcomes,” Dr. Soghier adds. “As a whole, mannequins need to more closely resemble an actual newborn, with flexible vocal cord design in natural colors. The mannequin’s neck should flex with more degrees of freedom. The model’s skin and joints also need to be more flexible, and its head and neck need to move more naturally.”

Monika Goyal

White children more likely to receive unnecessary antibiotics in ED

Monika Goyal

“It is encouraging that just 2.6 percent of children treated in pediatric EDs across the nation received antibiotics for viral acute respiratory tract infections since antibiotics are ineffective in treating viral infections,” Monika K. Goyal, M.D., M.S.C.E. says. “However, it is troubling to see such persistent racial and ethnic differences in how medications are prescribed, in this case in the ED.”

Infections now considered relatively easy to treat, including some forms of diarrhea and pneumonia, were the leading cause of death throughout the developed world until the 20th century. Then, scientists developed what eventually turned into a miracle cure: Antibiotics that could kill or thwart the growth of a broad array of bacterial species.

Although antibiotics can turn the tide for a variety of illnesses, they are ineffective against those caused by viruses. Despite this well-known fact, doctors often prescribe antibiotics for viral illnesses. Taking these drugs unnecessarily can fuel antibiotic resistance, giving rise to bacteria that don’t respond to the drugs that kept them in check in the past.

A new multicenter study shows how prevalent this scenario can be in hospitals’ Emergency Departments. This research, led by Monika K. Goyal, M.D., M.S.C.E., director of research in the Division of Emergency Medicine at Children’s National Health System, shows that non-Latino white children seeking treatment for viral infections in the Emergency Department (ED) are about twice as likely to receive an antibiotic unnecessarily compared with non-Latino black children or Latino children.

These findings, published online Sept. 5, 2017 in Pediatrics, echo similar racial and ethnic differences in treating acute respiratory tract infections in the primary care setting.

“It is encouraging that just 2.6 percent of children treated in pediatric EDs across the nation received antibiotics for viral acute respiratory tract infections since antibiotics are ineffective in treating viral infections,” Dr. Goyal says. “However, it is troubling to see such persistent racial and ethnic differences in how medications are prescribed, in this case in the ED. In addition to providing the best evidence-based care, we also strive to provide equitable care to all patients.”

Acute respiratory tract infections are among the most common reasons children are rushed to the ED for treatment, Dr. Goyal and co-authors write. Overprescribing antibiotics is also rampant for this viral ailment, with antibiotics erroneously prescribed for 13 percent to 75 percent of pediatric patients.

In the retrospective cohort study, the research team pored over deidentified electronic health data for the 2013 calendar year from seven geographically diverse pediatric EDs, capturing 39,445 encounters for these infections that met the study’s inclusion criteria. The patients’ mean age was 3.3 years old. Some 4.3 percent of non-Latino white patients received oral, intravenous or intramuscular antibiotics in the ED or upon discharge, compared with 2.6 percent of Latino patients and 1.9 percent of non-Latino black patients.

“A number of studies have demonstrated disparities with regards to how children of different ethnicities and races are treated in our nation’s pediatric EDs, including frequency of computed tomography scans for minor head trauma, laboratory and radiology tests and pain management. Unfortunately, today’s results provide further evidence of racial and ethnic differences in providing health care in the ED setting,” Dr. Goyal says. “Although, in this case, minority children received evidence-based care, more study is needed to explain why differences in care exist at all.”

At a time of growing antibiotic resistance, the study authors underscored the imperative to decrease excess antibiotic use in kids. Since the 1940s, the nation has relied on antibiotics to contend with diseases such as strep throat. Yet, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, at least 2 million people in the United States are infected with antibiotic-resistant bacteria each year.

According to the study authors, future research should explore the reasons that underlie racial and ethnic differences in antibiotic prescribing, including ED clinicians eager to appease anxious parents as well as implicit clinical bias. Dr. Goyal recently received a National Institutes of Health grant to further study racial and ethnic differences in how children seeking treatment at hospital EDs are managed.

“It may come down to factors as simple as providers or parents believing that ‘more is better,’ despite the clear public health risks of prescribing children antibiotics unnecessarily,” Dr. Goyal adds. “In this case, an intervention that educates parents and providers about appropriate antibiotic use could help the pediatric patients we care for today as well as in the future.”

Lenore Jarvis

Firearm-related injuries are leading causes of child and adolescent deaths and are preventable

Lenore Jarvis

Lenore Jarvis, M.D., M.Ed., F.A.A.P. addressed Congressional staff on behalf of the American Academy of Pediatrics in an effort to reduce gun injuries and deaths in the home by encouraging parents to ask about safe firearm storage.

“I see firsthand in my emergency department practice children getting shot: Unintentional, accidental injuries and shootings, homicides, suicides. And it’s terrible. If I never had to treat another child … for a gun-related injury, I would be so happy,” Lenore Jarvis, M.D., M.Ed., F.A.A.P., Pediatric Emergency Medicine Attending at Children’s National Health System, told Congressional staff. “I will never forget … a 5-year-old shot and killed by a family member who mistook him for a home intruder.”

Dr. Jarvis’ comments on behalf of the American Academy of Pediatrics came during briefings for Congressional staff working in the U.S. Senate and U.S. House of Representatives just days after a gunman targeted Republicans practicing for a Congressional baseball game wounding five, including House Majority Whip Steve Scalise.

The June 16, 2017 Congressional briefings were intended to draw attention to National ASK Day, an annual effort to reduce gun injuries and deaths in the home by encouraging parents to ask about safe firearm storage.

“It’s pretty simple,” Dr. Jarvis told attendees. “I think that there is a mutual recognition about what a public health problem this is: Firearms … are leading causes of deaths in children and adolescents through homicide and suicide by firearms. And they are preventable.”

Her comments echoed a recent firearms review paper published May 23, 2017, by a Children’s National research team that found firearms are present in 18 percent to 64 percent of U.S. homes, and 20,000 U.S. children are transported to Emergency Departments each year for firearm-related injuries. According to the study authors, pediatricians can play a pivotal role in helping to reduce gun violence by encouraging safe storage of firearms in the home and supporting research into firearm-related injury prevention.

In addition to Dr. Jarvis, speakers during the Congressional briefings included a Johns Hopkins Hospital surgeon who decided to pursue a medical career after surviving a gunshot wound to the throat while he was a teenager, a Missouri state representative who co-founded the Children’s Firearm Safety Alliance and a Brady Campaign strategist.

Monika Goyal

Keeping children safe from firearm-related harm

Monika Goyal

A research paper by Monika K. Goyal, M.D., M.S.C.E., and colleagues reports on the epidemiology of firearm-related violence, summarizes public health and legislative efforts and discusses the role of pediatricians in reducing firearm-related harm.

A review led by Children’s National Health System researchers presents new insights about pediatric firearm-related injuries. The findings, published May 23, 2017 in Hospital Pediatrics, show that up to 64 percent of U.S. households have firearms, and almost 40 percent of parents erroneously believe that their children are unaware of where weapons are stored. Additionally, about 22 percent of parents wrongly think that their children have never handled household firearms.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, firearm-related injuries are leading causes of injury deaths for youths. Younger children are more likely to be victims of unintentional firearm injuries, the majority of which occur in the home. Older adolescents are more likely to suffer from intentional injuries. Homicide by firearm is the second-leading cause of death for 15- to 19-year-olds, and suicide by firearm ranks as the third-most common cause of death for children aged 10 to 19. Estimates suggest that the cost of medical treatment for firearm-related injuries suffered by youths younger than 21 exceeds $330 million.

“While this preventable public health crisis occurs in the home, pediatricians who see children in clinic or at hospitals can play a pivotal role in helping to reduce gun violence,” says Kavita Parikh, M.D., M.S.H.S., associate professor of pediatrics in the Division of Hospitalist Medicine at Children’s National and study lead author. “In the course of providing care, pediatricians can ask patients and their families about children’s access to firearms, can encourage safe storage of firearms in the home and can support research into firearm-related injury prevention.”

The review article provides an overview of the prevalence of pediatric firearm-related injuries around the nation and a summary of legislative efforts and health care-related advocacy efforts to reduce firearm injuries around the nation. It includes research by four Children’s National co-authors who comprise the institution’s newly formed firearm-injury prevention research work group. Alyssa Silver, M.D., Children’s Hospital at Montefiore, is another co-author.

The study team found that about 20,000 children are transported to Emergency Departments each year for firearm-related injuries. Youths aged 12 to 19 make up 90 percent of this total. On average, 20 U.S. children and youths are hospitalized daily for firearm-related injuries. About 50 percent of the children who are hospitalized for firearm-related injuries are discharged with a disability.

The researchers identified regional variations in the percentage of households with firearms, as well as differences in firearm ownership by race and ethnicity. Across a number of surveys, 6 percent to nearly 50 percent of families reported storing firearms safely by using such methods as trigger locks and locked storage containers. There is a mismatch in what parents report — with many saying their child would never touch a firearm – compared with children who tell researchers they handle “hidden” firearms, including by pulling the trigger. One survey of 5,000 fifth-graders and their caregivers living in three metropolitan areas found 18 percent had household firearms. Of this group, African American and Latino households had lower odds of firearm ownership than families of white, non-Latino children. Among these survey respondents, families of white non-Latino children were less likely than families of African American children to use safer strategies for firearm storage.

“While public health interventions have had varying degrees of success in improving firearm safety, the most effective programs have offered families free gun safety devices,” says Monika Goyal M.D., M.S.C.E., assistant professor of pediatrics and emergency medicine at Children’s National and senior study author. “The stark differences in how parents perceive their children would act and the children’s own recollections to researchers underscore the importance of the combination of counseling parents to talk to their children about firearms and instituting safe storage practices for household guns.”

Sabah F. Iqbal, M.D., assistant professor of pediatrics and emergency medicine at Children’s National and study co-author, adds: “Most families are willing to discuss firearm safety with health care providers. It is encouraging that when families receive safety counseling from health care professionals, they store firearms more safely within the home. Pediatricians need to ask children and their families about the presence of firearms in the home. These essential conversations can occur in any medical setting and need to begin before a child begins to walk and explore their own home.”

Screening for access to firearms within the health care setting where youths receive routine care may represent a beneficial strategy, the authors write. A recent survey conducted among 300 adolescents seen in an Emergency Department found that 16 percent reported having a gun in the home and 28 percent said they could access a loaded gun within three hours. About 50 percent of adolescents screened for firearm access said a friend or relative owned a gun.

The study authors also discuss the benefit of “rigorous, well-conducted” research of firearm-related injuries to guide the work of public health agencies, policymakers and pediatricians, as well as supporting state-level laws shown to be effective in preventing firearm injuries, such as universal background checks and firearm identification.

“Rigorous investigations, with the use of validated scoring systems, large comprehensive databases and accurate detailed reporting and surveillance of firearm access and related injury are urgently needed,” Shilpa J. Patel, M.D., M.P.H., assistant professor of pediatrics and emergency medicine at Children’s National, and co-authors conclude. “A collective, data-driven approach to public health is crucial to halt the epidemic of pediatric firearm-related injury.”

Related reading: Pediatric firearm-related injuries in the United States.

Sabah IqbShilpa Patel, Monika Goyal

Stronger firearm laws reduce ED visits

Sabah Iqbl, Shilpa Patel, Monika Goyal

Children’s National researchers Sabah F. Iqbal, M.D., Shilpa J. Patel, M.D., and Monika K. Goyal, M.D., M.S.C.E., found that regions of the United States with the strictest gun laws also have fewer emergency department visits for pediatric firearm-related injuries.

A new study by researchers from Children’s National Health System find that regions of the United States with the strictest gun laws also have the fewest emergency department visits for pediatric firearm-related injuries. The work is among the few studies to evaluate the association between local laws and firearm-related injury to children and youth. The results, presented at the 2017 annual meeting of the Pediatric Academic Societies, could inform policies at the state and regional levels.

“Our results suggest an association between regional gun laws and firearm-related injuries in children,” says Monika K. Goyal, M.D., M.S.C.E., director of research within Children’s Division of Emergency Medicine and senior author of the poster. “Regions with stricter gun laws had lower incidence rates of firearm-related emergency department visits by children.”

Firearm-related injuries are a leading cause of death and disability among children and adolescents in the United States. It is well established that states with more restrictive gun laws have fewer firearm-related fatalities. However, it has been unclear how these laws affect the rates of firearm-related injuries among children.

To investigate this question, Children’s National researchers gathered data from the Nationwide Emergency Department Sample (NEDS), a set of hospital-based emergency department databases created by the federal Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality to aggregate data about emergency department visits across the country. The researchers matched NEDS data from 2009 to 2013 in patients 21 and younger with state-level Brady Gun Law Scores, a measure of the strength of firearm laws, in four geographic regions: The Midwest, Northeast, South and West.

The researchers found that during this five-year study period, there were 111,839 emergency department visits for pediatric firearm-related injuries nationwide, an average of 22,368 per year. The mean age of patients was 18 years, and the vast majority was male. Just over one-third were publicly insured. About 30 percent of these recorded injuries resulted in hospital admission, and about 6 percent resulted in death.

Overall, firearm-related visits to emergency departments remained consistent over time at a rate of 65 per every 100,000 visits until 2013, when they decreased slightly to 51 per 100,000 visits. However, these rates varied significantly by geographic region. The Northeast had the lowest rate at 40 per 100,000 visits. This was followed by the Midwest, West and South at 62, 68 and 71 per 100,000 visits, respectively.

These numbers roughly matched the Brady Gun Law Scores for each region. The Northeast had the highest Brady score at 45, followed by 8, 9 and 9 for the South, West and Midwest.

These findings, the study authors say, suggest that stricter gun laws might lead to fewer fatalities as well as fewer gun-related injuries among children. Future studies about the role of regional gun culture and its impact on firearm legislation at the regional level, they say, is an important next step in advocating for changes to firearm legislation and reducing pediatric firearm-related injuries.

“Future research work should seek to elucidate the association of specific gun laws with the incidence rates of pediatric firearm-related injuries,” says Shilpa Patel, M.D., M.P.H., an assistant professor of pediatrics and emergency medicine at Children’s National and co-author of the poster. “This work also could evaluate how regional differences — such as social gun culture, gun ownership and other factors — contribute to the significant regional variation in firearm legislation.”

The American Academy of Pediatrics, an organization of 66,000 pediatricians, has repeatedly advocated for stricter gun laws, violence prevention programs, research for gun violence prevention and public health surveillance, physician counseling to patients on the health hazards of firearms and mental health access to address exposure to violence.

test tubes

2016: A banner year for innovation

test tubes

In 2016, clinicians and research scientists working at Children’s National Health System published more than 1,100 articles in high-impact journals about a wide array of topics. A Children’s Research Institute review group selected the top articles for the calendar year considering, among other factors, work published in top-tier journals with impact factors of 9.5 and higher.

“Conducting world-class research and publishing the results in prestigious journals represents the pinnacle of many research scientists’ careers. I am pleased to see Children’s National staff continue this essential tradition,” says Mark L. Batshaw, M.D., Physician-in-Chief and Chief Academic Officer at Children’s National. “While it was difficult for us to winnow the field of worthy contenders to this select group, these papers not only inform the field broadly, they epitomize the multidisciplinary nature of our research,” Dr. Batshaw adds.

The published papers explain research that includes discoveries made at the genetic and cellular levels, clinical insights and a robotic innovation that promises to revolutionize surgery:

  • Outcomes from supervised autonomous procedures are superior to surgery performed by expert surgeons
  • The Zika virus can cause substantial fetal brain abnormalities in utero, without microcephaly or intracranial calcifications
  • Mortality among injured adolescents was lower among patients treated at pediatric trauma centers, compared with adolescents treated at other trauma center types
  • Hydroxycarbamide can substitute for chronic transfusions to maintain transcranial Doppler flow velocities for high-risk children with sickle cell anemia
  • There is convincing evidence of the efficacy of in vivo genome editing in an authentic animal model of a lethal human metabolic disease
  • Sirt1 is an essential regulator of oligodendrocyte progenitor cell proliferation and oligodendrocyte regeneration after neonatal brain injury

Read the complete list.

Dr. Batshaw’s announcement comes on the eve of Research and Education Week 2017 at Children’s National, a weeklong event that begins April 24. This year’s theme, “Collaboration Leads to Innovation,” underscores the cross-cutting nature of Children’s research that aims to transform pediatric care.

Cardiac Intensive Care Unit

Michael Bell to head Division of Critical Care

Cardiac Intensive Care Unit

Michael J. Bell, M.D., will join Children’s National as Chief of the Division of Critical Care Medicine, in April 2017.

Dr. Bell is a nationally known expert in the field of pediatric neurocritical care, and established the pediatric neurocritical care program at the Children’s Hospital of UPMC in Pittsburgh.

He is a founding member of the Pediatric Neurocritical Care Research Group, an international consortia of 40 institutions dedicated to advancing clinical research for children with critical neurological illnesses. Prior to joining the University of Pittsburgh, Dr. Bell served on the faculty at Children’s National and simultaneously conducted research on the impact of inflammation on the developing brain at the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS), within the laboratory of the Chief of the NINDS Stroke Branch.

Dr. Bell also leads the largest study to date evaluating the impact of interventions on the outcomes of infants and children with severe traumatic brain injury (TBI) and analyzing findings to improve clinical practice across the world. The Approaches and Decisions for Acute Pediatric Traumatic Brain Injury (ADAPT) Trial, funded by NINDS, has enrolled 1,000 children through 50 clinical sites across eight countries and compiled an unmatched database, which will be used to develop new guidelines for clinical care and research on TBIs. Dr. Bell is currently working on expanding the scope and continuing the trial for at least the next 5 years.

In his time at Children’s National, he played a critical role in building one of the first clinical pediatric neuro-critical care consult services in the country, which established common protocols between Children’s Divisions of Critical Care Medicine, Neurology, and Neurosurgery aimed at improving clinical care of children with brain injuries. Dr. Bell’s current research interests include: barriers to implementation of traumatic brain injury guidelines, the effect of hypothermia on various brain injuries and applications for neurological markers in a clinical setting.

The Children’s National Division of Critical Care Medicine is a national leader in the care of critically ill and injured infants and children, with clinical outcomes and safety measures among the best in the country across the pediatric, cardiac, and neuro critical care units.

Dr. Kurt Newman and HHS Secretary Price

Kurt Newman: prioritize children in health care

Dr. Kurt Newman and HHS Secretary Price

Children’s National President and CEO Dr. Kurt Newman welcomed Secretary of Health and Human Services Tom Price to the hospital for his first official visit as a member of the Cabinet.

On February 14, Children’s National President and CEO Dr. Kurt Newman met with Secretary of Health and Human Services Tom Price at Children’s National. As part of his first official visit as a member of the Cabinet Dr. Price, who is an orthopaedic surgeon by training, toured our clinics and engaged in open dialogue with patients and families, clinicians, and members of the Children’s National leadership team.

The visit highlighted the excellence of Children’s National care providers and the essential role pediatric hospitals play in helping kids grow up stronger. It was also an opportunity to ensure that children’s health needs are top of mind for a leader who will be central to shaping policies that affect millions of America’s kids.

In their conversations, Dr. Newman emphasized the need for continued investment and dedicated health care infrastructure to support specialized care and research for children – an approach he outlined in detail this week in an op-ed in the Washington Post.

Dr. Newman intends to continue engaging directly with policy leaders and speaking up for children during this pivotal period for the nation’s health care system.

Learn more about advocacy efforts at Children’s National.

Patient-centered family conferences can boost satisfaction with care

Malone Brand Shoot January 2015 CICU Cardio Patient Baby Boy African American Dailen Miles Staff
The medical team typically speaks for nearly three-quarters of the time allotted to family conferences in the pediatric intensive care unit (PICU). Clinicians can transform those one-sided conversations into patient-centered interactions by ensuring that they show empathy, ask questions, and speak from the heart as well as from their clinical experience, according to a cross-sectional study published June 17 by Pediatric Critical Care Medicine.

A research team led by Tessie W. October, MD, MPH, a critical care specialist at Children’s National Health System, sought to clarify the association between the patient-centered nature of physicians’ communication patterns and the degree to which parents were satisfied with decision-making during family conferences in the PICU. In order to dissect the dynamics of those conversations, the team recorded 39 family conferences, which averaged 45 minutes in length. The medical team spoke 73 percent of the time. Physicians contributed 89 percent of the dialogue and spent 79 percent of their time speaking about medically focused topics. Parents’ contribution amounted to 27 percent of the conversation, according to the study, “Parent Satisfaction With Communication is Associated With Physician’s Patient-Centered Communication Patterns During Family Conferences.”

“These conferences cover some of the toughest decisions that families of critically ill children will ever make: Whether to start life support, place a tracheostomy, repeat bone marrow transplantation, or to withdraw life-sustaining interventions,” Dr. October says. “Rather than essential decisions about the child’s care being made in partnership with families, the conferences are akin to monologues with the medical team deciding the pace and content of the conversation.”

A few subtle changes can shift more of the balance of the conversation to the parents and, when clinicians use these skills, parents are more satisfied with the decision-making, she says. Simple changes include maintaining eye contact, smiling when appropriate, and acknowledging the parents’ emotions by saying “I can’t imagine how difficult this must be for you” or “I wish I had better news” ­–  rather than simply informing the parents of the child’s prognosis. When these social niceties are skipped, parents can perceive their medical team to be uncaring, she says. Slowing the pace of the conversation is helpful, as are including open-ended questions and moments of silence, which both tease out opportunities for parents and family members to offer their thoughts.

“There is an art to it,” October says. “From the outset, clinicians can ask about the family’s understanding of their child’s medical condition and follow up with questions about their family’s goals, such as ‘What does a meaningful life look like? Has anyone ever spoken with you about that?’ ”

The parents who were involved in the study completed satisfaction surveys within 24 hours of the family conference. “The median parent satisfaction score was significantly higher (82.5) when the patient-centeredness score was greater than or equal to 0.75, compared to a median satisfaction score of 70.0 when the patient-centeredness score was less than 0.75,” October and co-authors write.

“We do not know the optimal balance of discussing psychosocial elements compared to medical talk, but our results reveal that the amount of psychosocial elements does impact[the degree of parent satisfaction with communication. It is clear that parents want their fears and concerns to be understood and addressed, and they want to feel cared for and about. Making our interactions with parents more patient-centered can likely improve the communication experience for parents and also improve the grieving process should their child not survive their illness,” the authors continue.

In the next phase of research, the team will explore how parents’ perceptions change when additional members of the medical team speak during family conferences. In the current study, case managers and bedside nurses each spoke 2 percent of the time while social workers spoke 7 percent of the time.

Related Resources: Patient centered family conferences can boost satisfaction with pediatric ICU care