Which observed behaviours may reassure physicians that a child is not septic? An international Delphi study

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Abstract

Objective

In an attempt to improve the diagnosis of sepsis in children, diagnostic aids have concentrated on clinical features that suggest that sepsis is present. Clinicians need to be able to clinically rule out sepsis as well as rule it in. Little is known about which features are consistent with wellness and/or absence of sepsis. Guidelines are therefore likely to improve sensitivity without preserving specificity. We aimed to gather expert opinion on which (if any) features would make clinicians consider a child to be unlikely to have sepsis.

Design

We undertook a modified two-round international Delphi study, where clinicians were asked for features they believed were indicators of wellness in an ill child.

Participants

One hundred and ninety-five clinicians (predominantly physicians) who routinely assessed unwell children and had been doing so for most of their careers.

Results

Over 90% of respondents rated age-appropriate verbalisation, playing, smiling and activity as reassuring that a child was unlikely to have sepsis. Eating, spontaneous interaction and normal movement were also agreed to be reassuring by over 70% of participants. Consolability and showing fear of the clinician were not felt to be adequately reassuring. There was wide range of opinion on how reassuring the use of an electronic device was thought to be.

Conclusions

This study confirms that physicians are reassured by specific behaviours in ill children, and provides a framework which may be used to help guide the assessment of the unwell child. Validation of individual features could lead to improved specificity of diagnostic aids for diagnosing sepsis.

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