When it comes to medical care, children are not just “little adults.” The field of Pediatric Emergency Medicine requires specialized knowledge, training and experience to effectively care for infants, children and adolescents—especially in an emergency, when every second counts.
In fact, a recently published 2019 study showed that critically ill children are more than three times as likely to die if they are taken to a hospital poorly equipped to provide emergency pediatric care than if they visit an emergency department (ED) that is well-prepared for resuscitation of pediatric patients.
Studies like this underscore the industry’s increased awareness around the value of pediatric emergency care, as well as the rising demand for pediatric emergency medicine physicians who have the ability to support a dedicated service line or hospital “department within a department.”
This white paper explores how the field of PEM differs from adult emergency medicine and offers tips for hospital leaders to build, grow or strengthen their PEM service.
History of PEM
Pediatric emergency medicine focuses on the care of acutely ill or injured children in an emergency department. The subspecialty began to emerge in the 1980s as medical societies recognized and raised awareness of the need for specialized equipment, medication and training for treating children in emergency situations.
As early as 1980, hospitals such as Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia began to establish PEM fellowship programs. Ten years later, the American Board of Emergency Medicine and the American Board of Pediatrics applied for approval to offer subspecialty certification in PEM, and the first board examination was offered in 1992. Since then, more than 2,500 physicians have earned their PEM board certification, and today there are more than 70 PEM fellowships open to both pediatricians and emergency medicine physicians.
Despite the growth of the young specialty, demand for PEM physicians continues to outpace supply — particularly in non-academic or community hospital settings.
Today, the majority of PEM physicians (about 63%) practice in freestanding children’s hospitals, and roughly 27% practice within a dedicated pediatric unit within a general ED. Although some children are treated in these settings, the vast majority—nearly 90 percent of the 30 million children aged 18 or younger who visit an ED each year—are treated in community hospitals, which often have no pediatric unit.
PEM VS. EM
Because treating children with emergent medical conditions can be dramatically different from treating adults, hospitals must have specially trained staff, equipment and additional pediatric-specific resources. Research shows that, to date, many hospitals are not fully prepared.
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