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Paediatric-appropriate facilities in emergency departments of community hospitals in Ontario: A cross-sectional study

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Muhammad Akhter Hamid1,2, Sohaib Siddiqui1, Jabeen Fayyaz3, Ayesha Chandna4, Aliya Ariz5, Joe Butchey1, Elancheliyan Ambalavanar1, Niraj Mistry1, Aftab Muhammad Azad6, Junaid A. Bhatti7, Dennis Scolnik2


1 Scarborough and Rouge Hospital, Toronto, Canada


2 University of Toronto, Department of Paediatrics, Toronto, Canada


3 Sickkids Hospital, Toronto, Canada


4 Saskatchewan Cancer Agency, Regina, Canada


5 Hamilton Health Sciences Centre, Hamilton, Canada


6 Hamad Medical Corporation, Doha, Qatar


7 Sunnybrook Research Institute, Toronto, Canada


Corresponding Author: Muhammad Akhter Hamid, Email: mahamid@rougevalley.ca


© 2017 World Journal of Emergency Medicine


DOI: 10.5847/wjem.j.1920–8642.2017.04.003


BACKGROUND: We assessed whether the paediatric-appropriate facilities were available at Emergency Departments (ED) in community hospitals in a Canadian province.

METHODS: We conducted a cross-sectional survey of EDs in community hospitals in Ontario, Canada that had inpatient paediatric facilities and a neonatal intensive care unit. Key informants were ED chiefs, clinical educators, or managers. The survey included questions about paediatric facilities related to environment, triage, training, and staff in EDs.

RESULTS: Of 52 hospitals, 69% (n=36) responded to our survey. Of them, 14% EDs (n=5) had some separated spaces available for paediatric patients. About 53% (n=19) of EDs lacked children activities, e.g., toys. Only 11% (n=4) EDs were using paediatric triage scales and 42% (n=15) had a designated paediatric resuscitation bay. Only half of the ED (n=18) required from their staff to update paediatric life support training. Only 31% (n=11) had a designated liaison paediatrician for the ED. Paediatric social worker was present in only 8% (n=3) of EDs in community hospitals.

CONCLUSION: Most of the Ontario community hospital EDs included in this survey had inadequate facilities for paediatric patients such as specific waiting and treatment areas.

(World J Emerg Med 2017;8(4):264–268)


KEY WORDS: Child-friendly; Environment, Survey; Triage; Waiting area



Emergency Departments (ED) in the Canadian community hospitals treat over 10 million patients annually.[1] Children account for about 30% of these patients.[2] These statistics are unsurprising as toddlers are expected to have 4–8 upper respiratory tract infections in a year.[3] Other health conditions such as infections and injuries are also common in children.[2,3]

Paediatric patients often have unique ED care needs, and often large urban centers have a separate paediatric hospitals with an adapted ED.[4] However, these centers only provide services to a small proportion of population. For instance, in Ontario, only 15% of paediatric patients receive care in a paediatric-only facility.[5] It is possible that the overall ED environment in community hospitals might not be appropriate for paediatric patients.[6]

For example, it has been argued that paediatric patients must not be considered as small adults.[7] Each age group in these patients has unique needs based on their stage of development. For instance infants would require quiet spaces for breastfeeding, which can often be of critical importance in an acutely-ill child.[2] Toddlers, on the other hand, could be curious and might start exploring needlessly the ED environment and spaces, if they are not engaged in a safe space with age appropriate toys and books.[7]

We noted that several countries such as United Kingdom, the United States and Australia have already developed specific guidelines for paediatric facilities in the EDs of community hospitals.[4,7,8] To date, there is limited information about paediatric facilities available at the ED in Canadian community hospitals.[9] A knowledge gap therefore exists about whether similar guidelines about paediatric facilities are needed in the Canadian settings.[10] We conducted a survey to assess the availability of paediatric-appropriate facilities in the EDs of community hospitals in a large Canadian province.



Study design and setting

We designed a cross-sectional survey to assess EDs in community hospitals in Ontario, which is the most populous province of Canada.[11] We included those community hospitals that had an ED and inpatient paediatric facilities including an inpatient unit and a neonatal intensive care unit. About 52 hospitals met our inclusion criteria. Ethics approval was obtained from the Research Ethics Board of the Scarborough and Rouge Hospital in Toronto.


Data collection

We used a standard questionnaire to inquire about the availability of paediatric facilities at the ED (Table 1). For each respective hospital, we approached a keyinformant, i.e., an individual who would have knowledge of paediatric care in their ED, such as the chiefs of ED, managers, and clinical educators. We initially contacted these individuals by a phone call and an e-mail to introduce the study. This brief contact was followed by a link to an online survey. We followed up each informant with two e-mail reminders to complete the survey. In case of a non-response, a hardcopy of the survey was sent to their address. Finally, a research assistant visited community hospitals within a 100-km radius of the Greater Toronto Area to complete the survey.





The survey included 25 items about facilities. The major themes covered in the assessment were environment, staffing, triage, and training. The respondents were asked to identify if the items mentioned in the questionnaire were present, or were part of the process of being developed in their hospital.


Statistical analysis

The responses were entered directly on to the SurveyMonkey® web-based platform. Personal identifying information like hospital name or the name of key informant was removed from the analysis. The entries were assessed by an investigator to ensure accuracy, and where needed, the research assistant confirmed the responses from key informant. Finally, we conducted a descriptive analysis of the findings using analysis application of SurveyMonkey®.



A total of 52 hospitals in Ontario met our inclusion criteria. Of them, we received information on 69% (n=36) EDs. Annually, 11 EDs received 5 000–9 999 paediatric patients, 7 received 10 000–14 999 patients, 6 received 15 000–19 999 patients, and 4 received more than 20 000 patients.

We found lack of separated spaces and entrances for children in most of the surveyed EDs (Table 2). Only one ED had a separate space and an entrance for children. About 8% (n=3) EDs had a separate space but a common entrance. About 14% (n=5) EDs reported separate waiting and treatment spaces for paediatric patients.


Most hospitals (86%, n=31) hospitals did not have a specific treatment area for children. Also, just under half (44%, n=16) of hospitals did not have any facilitates for breast-feeding, diaper changing or childfriendly washrooms. With respect to toys or activities, 53% (n=19) did not have any for toddlers, children or teenagers. A total of 28 (78%) had a paediatric emergency care trolley or bag available in the ED. A separate resuscitation bay designated for children was present in 42% (n=15) of hospital EDs. More than half of ED (58%, n=21) had no plans to develop a separate paediatric space in near future.

Access to a paediatrician 24 hours a day was available in 92% (n=33) of EDs. A designated liaison paediatrician for the ED was available in 31% (n=11) of EDs. About 50% (n=18) EDs required ED staff to update paediatric life support training as per the national guidelines.

The majority of EDs (72%, n=26) had multiple nurses with some specific paediatric training during each shift. Specialized staff such as a paediatric social worker was present in only 8% (n=3) of EDs in community hospitals. In 83% (n=30) EDs, the hospitals did not have access to child-life specialists. Accesses to interpreter services were available in 92% (n=33) of EDs in community hospitals, trained for supporting patients and parents through difficult procedures. Patients had access to satisfaction or comment forms in 72% (n=26) of EDs. Overall 56% (n=20) respondents indicated that the staff received specialized training for child protection. Similarly, only 6% (n=2) of EDs provided families with visitor identification badges. Lastly, 94% (n=34) of key informants thought that a standardized guideline for designing and managing ED services for paediatric patient population is needed in Canada.



Our survey indicates that ED of community hospitals in Ontario might be lacking paediatric-patients appropriate facilities. For example, separate spaces for paediatric patients were available in only one in seven EDs. Similarly, over half of the EDs lacked common facilities such as rooms for breast-feeding or rest rooms. Simple interventions such as toys and activities for children were available in limited settings. Triage and staff training requirements for providing care for paediatric patients were also found to be inadequate in over half of the EDs.

Our study has several limitations. Firstly, we had a response rate of 69%. It is likely that we might have overestimated the availability of facilities as the responses from hospitals away from the largest urban center like Toronto were not captured. Limited resources prevented the study staff from visiting community hospitals beyond 100 km from Toronto. Nonetheless, we feel that this survey is still useful in showing availability trends of paediatric facilities in ED across Ontario. Furthermore, we usually collected responses from one key informant per hospital. Ideally, more than one key informant could provide a more accurate assessment of facilities. Lastly, a small sample precluded us from conducting sub-group analysis.

Our survey identified many potential areas for improvement such as establishing separate waiting areas and resuscitation bays for paediatric patients. The results also support the notion of developing guidelines for standardizing environments for paediatric patients across community hospitals.[10] Of particular importance, 94% of our responders thought that a guideline would be beneficial resource for hospitals to plan and improve their paediatric ED services. One respondent stated "using standardized guidelines would help healthcare professional in providing the same standard of care for this population". Our findings could be interesting for pediatric emergency literature that has focused on the care related equipment and supplies.[12–14] These findings highlight the need to consider pediatric facilities in conceiving ED of community hospitals.

Our survey illustrated some easily implementable interventions. We noted that the majority of hospitals did not have age appropriate playing, rest rooms or breast-feeding facilities. We also noted that ED liaison paediatrician and mandatory updates for paediatric ED care trainings were not available in about half of the settings. These shortcomings can easily be addressed by developing appropriate guidelines.[15,16]

We suggest that developing a guideline for the ED care of paediatric patients in Canada would address the imminent needs of paediatric patients and their parents during difficult circumstances. The major areas that need attention in these guidelines might be paediatric appropriate spaces, triage for patients, protection and safety, equipment, and up-to-date training for healthcare professionals. A US study noted that only 7% of EDs had all recommended pediatric supplies and equipment at triage.[12] Lacunas like these and others as noted in our study could potentially put pediatric patients at risk of iatrogenic conditions. Prolonged wait times have been a concern and availability of paediatric appropriate facilities can improve patient satisfaction and reduce stress.[9,10] Performance indicators developed based on comprehensive guidelines can address the highlighted challenges and positively influence patient safety.[12,17]



In conclusion, these findings should serve as a baseline for planning pediatric ED facilities in the community hospitals in Ontario. We suggest that provincial and national guidelines for serving paediatric ED patients could provide the expected level of services. Guidelines from comparable settings such as the United States, United Kingdom and Australia can be adopted to serve this purpose.[4,7,8]


Funding: None.

Ethical approval: Ethics approval was obtained from the Research Ethics Board of the Scarborough and Rouge Hospital in Toronto.

Conflicts of interest: The authors declare that no competing interest and no personal relationships with other people or organizations that could inappropriately influence their work.

Contributors: Ariz A proposed the study and wrote the first draft. All authors read and approved the final version of the paper.



1 Canadian Institute for Health Information. Emergency Department Visits in 2014–2015. Ottawa, ON: CIHI; 2016. [Available at URL: https://secure.cihi.ca/free_products/NACRS_ ED_QuickStats_Infosheet_2014–15_ENweb.pdf ] [accessed 4 November 2016].

2 McGillivray D, Nijssen-Jordan C, Kramer MS, Yang H, Platt R. Critical paediatric equipment availability in Canadian hospital emergency departments. Ann Emerg Med 2001;37(4):371–6.

3 Gruber C, Keil T, Kulig M, Roll S, Wahn U, Wahn V, et al. History of respiratory infections in the first 12 yr among children from a birth cohort. Pediatr Allergy Immunol. 2008;19(6):505– 12.

4 American Academy of Paediatrics, Committee on Paediatric Emergency Medicine, American College of Emergency Physicians, Paediatric Committee, Emergency Nurses Association Paediatric Committee. Joint policy statement— guidelines for care of children in the emergency department. Paediatrics. 2009;124(4):1233–43.

5 Canadian Institute for Health Information. Emergency departments and children in Ontario. Ottawa, ON: CIHI; 2008. [Available at: https://secure.cihi.ca/estore/productFamily. htm?pf=PFC100 8&lang=en&media=0] [Last accessed 4 October 2014].

6 Stone KP, Woodward GA. Paediatric patients in the adult trauma bay- comfort level and challenges. Clin Pediatr Emerg Med. 2010;11(1):48–56.

7 Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health. Standards for children and young people in emergency care settings. London, UK: Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health; 2012. [Available at URL: http://www.rcpch.ac.uk/emergency care] [accessed 5 November 2016].

8 Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health. New standards for emergency care of children and young people. London, UK: Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health; 2012. [Available at: http://www.rcpch.ac.uk/news/new- standardsset- emergency-care-children-and-young-people] [accessed 6 November 2016].

9 Hamid MA, Siddiqui S, Chandna A, Ariz A, Scolnik D. Children are not young adults: a call for standardized guidelines for dealing with pediatric patients in the emergency department of Canadian community hospitals. CJEM. 2016;18(1):48–51.

10 Freeman J, Ahmed S. A Call for Canadian Pediatric Emergency Guidelines-–As Certain As Motherhood? CJEM. 2016;18(1):52–3.

11 Statistics Canada. Population by year, by province and territory. Ottawa, ON: Statistics Canada, 2014.

12 Schappert SM, Bhuiya F. Availability of pediatric services and equipment in emergency departments: United States, 2006. Natl Health Stat Report. 2012;(47):1–21.

13 Middleton KR, Burt CW. Availability of pediatric services and equipment in emergency departments: United States, 2002–03. Adv Data. 2006;(367):1–16.

14 Burt CW, Middleton KR. Factors associated with ability to treat pediatric emergencies in US hospitals. Pediatr Emerg Care. 2007;23(10):681–9.

15 O'Malley PJ, Brown K, Krug SE. Patient and family centered care of children in emergency department. Paediatrics. 2008;122(2):e511–21.

16 Wilson JM. Child life services. Paediatrics. 2006;118(4):1757– 63.

17 American Academy of Pediatrics Committee on Pediatric Emergency Medicine.; American College of Emergency Physicians Pediatric Committee.; Emergency Nurses Association Pediatric Committee. Joint policy statement–guidelines for care of children in the emergency department. Ann Emerg Med. 2009;54(4):543–52.

Received February 15, 2017

Accepted after revision August 10, 2017

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