Practice Variation in Emergency Department Management of Children With Sickle Cell Disease Who Present With Fever

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Urgent medical evaluation is recommended for patients with sickle cell disease (SCD) and fever. Clear recommendations exist regarding certain aspects of treatment, but other areas lack evidence. We determined practice variation for children with SCD presenting with fever to the emergency department (ED).


Retrospective chart review of children ages 3 months to 21 years with SCD presenting to the ED with fever greater than or equal to 38.5°C in the ED or preceding 24 hours. Visits from 3 sickle cell centers were included. Outcomes included blood culture, complete blood count, antibiotic treatment, chest x-ray, urinalysis, electrolytes, and hospital disposition. Differences greater than 10% were considered clinically meaningful.


The population included 14,454 visits, of which 4143 (29%) were febrile and met all inclusion criteria. A complete blood count and blood culture were obtained at 94% of visits, and antibiotics were given at 91%, with no differences among sites. Meaningful differences existed for disposition, with 52%, 43%, and 99% of patients admitted to the inpatient units at hospitals A, B, and C, respectively. Differences were seen in obtaining a urinalysis (33%, 17%, and 21%), electrolytes (2%, 50%, and 12%), and chest x-rays for patients 2 years and older (78%, 77%, 64%) for hospitals A, B, and C, respectively.


Significant variation exists in the proportion of children who receive a urinalysis, electrolytes, chest x-ray, and, most importantly, admission to the hospital. These examples of practice variation represent potential opportunities to define best care practices for children with SCD presenting to the ED for fever.

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