Sedation patterns in pediatric and general community hospital emergency departments

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Background and objectives

Although pediatric sedation (PS) is widely used in emergency departments (ED), the practice of PS in general community hospital (GH) ED has not been described. We surveyed PS practice patterns in pediatric hospitals (CH) and GH and compared frequency and usage between the two groups.


All CH (n = 115) and 400 randomly selected GH were surveyed. Alcohol and drug detoxification, psychiatric, chronic care, rehabilitation, and specialty facilities were excluded. Data were collected on hospital type (pediatric or community), location (urban, suburban, rural), annual visits, academic affiliation (presence of an emergency medicine residency or pediatric emergency medicine fellowship in the hospital), and sedation agents used.


Of 515 hospitals surveyed, 238 responded [84/115 CH (73%), 154/400 GH (39%)] yielding an overall response rate of 46%. Of the responding CH the majority were urban [57 (68%) were urban, 15 (18%) suburban, and 12 (14%) rural]. GH were more evenly distributed by location [44/153 (29%) were urban, 49/153 (32%) suburban, and 60/153 (39%) rural]. Eight (5%) GH had emergency medicine residencies, while 39 (46%) CH had pediatric emergency medicine fellowships. The mean annual pediatric volume was 38,000 for CH and 6500 for GH. For the four specified clinical scenarios, representing the most common ED procedures using sedation (laceration repair, fracture reduction, radiologic imaging), GH performed significantly fewer sedations than CH when matched for pediatric volume. PS was less frequently used among rural GH compared to suburban (P < 0.01) and urban GH (P < 0.01). Midazolam was listed as the most frequently used drug in all three geographic locations for both CH and GH. CH listed fentanyl as a second agent, while GH preferred meperidine. Fentanyl and ketamine were listed as preferred agents only in CH. For cranial computerized tomography, chloral hydrate was listed as the drug of choice by both CH and GH. Both CH and GH listed “relief of pain and anxiety” as the first and “agitation control” as the second most common reason for using sedation. CH and GH listed “the risks outweigh the benefits” as the primary reason and “ED too busy/takes too much time” as the secondary reason for not using sedation.


GH performed fewer sedations than did CH when matched for pediatric volume in all geographic locations and for the most common ED procedures using sedation. Since 1989, sedation patterns have shifted in CH to include the short-acting agents, while GH (with the exception of midazolam) continue to prefer the long-acting agents. Midazolam is now the most frequently used sedation agent for ED procedures in both CH and GH.

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