Purpose: The population demographics found in many urban emergency departments (EDs) often mirrors those of children at risk for elevated serum lead levels. We evaluated the effectiveness of a verbal lead screening program for screening high-risk children presenting to the ED.
Methods: A prospective observational cohort study was conducted of children aged 9 months to 6 years, living in 2 target counties and presenting to an urban, academic, Midwestern ED. Those with a prior lead level, enrolled in a program requiring lead testing, or with an unstable medical condition were excluded. A 6-question validated verbal survey was administered to all parents of eligible children, and the results recorded in the patient’s electronic medical record. Children who screened positive were referred to their local health department for blood lead testing. Health department records were reviewed for follow-up visits and blood lead levels.
Results: During the study period, 3513 children were eligible (mean age, 2.6 years; 53.3% male), with 815 patients screened and 209 (25.6%) screening positive. Most positively screened patients (71.8%) documented only 1 affirmative question, most often indicating they lived in a home built before 1978. Of those children who screened positive, 14.8% (31/209) had a blood lead level performed within 6 months. Of those tested, 4 children had an elevated lead level (>10 µg/dL).
Conclusions: Use of an ED verbal lead exposure screening tool identified children requiring additional follow-up testing. However, health department–referred children had poor follow-up, and few children were ultimately documented with elevated lead levels.