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Palliative care has improved for critically ill children, but challenges remain



Palliative care among critically ill pediatric patients in the intensive care unit is highly variable across institutions, and is more common among older children, female children, and those with government insurance or at a high risk of mortality. The findings come from a retrospective analysis of data from 52 hospitals, which included ICU admissions (except neonatal ICU) during 2007-2018.

Dr. Siobhan O'Keefe of Children's Hospital of Colorado Jim Kling/MDedge News

Dr. Siobhan O'Keefe

The good news is that palliative care consultations have increased, with consultations in less than 1% of cases at the start of the study and rising quickly to more than 7% in 2018.

“In the adult world, palliative care has expanded in recent decades, and I think now that it’s coming to the pediatric world, it’ll just continue to go up,” said Siobhan O’Keefe, MD, in an interview. Dr. O’Keefe is with Children’s Hospital Colorado, Aurora. She presented the study at the Critical Care Congress sponsored by the Society of Critical Care Medicine.

More work needs to be done, she said. “We are not uniformly using palliative care for critically ill children in the U.S., and it varies across institutions. That’s probably not the ideal situation,” said Dr. O’Keefe. The study did not track palliative care versus the presence of board-certified palliative care physicians or palliative care fellowships, but she suspects they would correlate.

Dr. O’Keefe called for physicians to think beyond the patient, to family members and caregivers. “We need to focus on family outcomes, how they are taking care of children with moderate disability, and incorporate that into our outcomes,” she said. Previous research has shown family members to be at risk of anxiety, depression, unemployment, and financial distress.


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