Children with severe chronic illness are a prevalent, impactful, vulnerable group in PICUs, whose needs are insufficiently met by transitory care models and a narrow focus on acute care needs. Thus, we sought to provide a concise synthetic review of published literature relevant to them and a compilation of strategies to address their distinctive needs.
English language articles were identified in MEDLINE using a variety of phrases related to children with chronic conditions, prolonged admissions, resource utilization, mortality, morbidity, continuity of care, palliative care, and other critical care topics. Bibliographies were also reviewed.
Original articles, review articles, and commentaries were considered.
Data from relevant articles were reviewed, summarized, and integrated into a narrative synthetic review.
Children with serious chronic conditions are a heterogeneous group who are growing in numbers and complexity, partly due to successes of critical care. Because of their prevalence, prolonged stays, readmissions, and other resource use, they disproportionately impact PICUs. Often more than other patients, critical illness can substantially negatively affect these children and their families, physically and psychosocially. Critical care approaches narrowly focused on acute care and transitory/rotating care models exacerbate these problems and contribute to ineffective communication and information sharing, impaired relationships, subpar and untimely decision-making, patient/family dissatisfaction, and moral distress in providers. Strategies to mitigate these effects and address these patients’ distinctive needs include improving continuity and communication, primary and secondary palliative care, and involvement of families. However, there are limited outcome data for most of these strategies and little consensus on which outcomes should be measured.
The future of pediatric critical care medicine is intertwined with that of children with serious chronic illness. More concerted efforts are needed to address their distinctive needs and study the effectiveness of strategies to do so.