Sepsis Electronic Decision Support Screen in High-Risk Patients Across Age Groups in a Pediatric Emergency Department

Celeste S. Witting, Norma Jean E. Simon, Doug Lorenz, Julia S. Murphy, Jill Nelson, Katherine Lehnig, Elizabeth R. Alpern*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


Objective This study aimed to compare the performance of a pediatric decision support algorithm to detect severe sepsis between high-risk pediatric and adult patients in a pediatric emergency department (PED). Methods This is a retrospective cohort study of patients presenting from March 2017 to February 2018 to a tertiary care PED. Patients were identified as high risk for sepsis based on a priori defined criteria and were considered adult if 18 years or older. The 2-step decision support algorithm consists of (1) an electronic health record best-practice alert (BPA) with age-adjusted vital sign ranges, and (2) physician screen. The difference in test characteristics of the intervention for the detection of severe sepsis between pediatric and adult patients was assessed at 0.05 statistical significance. Results The 2358 enrolled subjects included 2125 children (90.1%) and 233 adults (9.9%). The median ages for children and adults were 3.8 (interquartile range, 1.2-8.6) and 20.1 (interquartile range, 18.2-22.0) years, respectively. In adults, compared with children, the BPA alone had significantly higher sensitivity (0.83 [95% confidence interval {CI}, 0.74-0.89] vs 0.72 [95% CI, 0.69-0.75]; P = 0.02) and lower specificity (0.11 [95% CI, 0.07-0.19] vs 0.48 [95% CI, 0.45-0.51; P < 0.001). With the addition of provider screen, sensitivity and specificity were comparable across age groups, with a lower negative predictive value in adults compared with children (0.66 [95% CI, 0.58-0.74] vs 0.77 [95% CI, 0.75-0.79]; P = 0.005). Conclusions The BPA was less specific in adults compared with children. With the addition of provider screen, specificity improved; however, the lower negative predictive value suggests that providers may be less likely to suspect sepsis even after automated screen in adult patients. This study invites further research aimed at improving screening algorithms, particularly across the diverse age spectrum presenting to a PED.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)E1479-E1484
JournalPediatric emergency care
Issue number8
StatePublished - Aug 1 2022


  • Age
  • Quality improvement
  • Sepsis
  • Septic shock

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pediatrics, Perinatology, and Child Health
  • Emergency Medicine


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