Programs Aim to Standardize Surgical Care for Children

Tue, 09/02/2014 - 11:05am

For parents, the prospect of a child's surgery can be frightening, with little information on how to pick the best hospital or understand complex procedures.

To help, surgeons have developed a new classification system for pediatric surgical centers according to the level of care they provide, similar to the one that classifies trauma centers, reported the Wall Street Journal on Monday. Meanwhile, hospitals are offering new programs to help demystify the risks and benefits of pediatric surgery.

More than five million infants and children undergo surgery each year, ranging from simple outpatient procedures such as tonsillectomies to complex heart-defect repairs that can take 12 hours or more in the operating room. Sedation poses the most significant risk. Though there have been safety advances in pediatric anesthesia, the death and complication rate is still higher in children than in adults. For infants under 1 year old, researchers estimate the risk of cardiac arrest under anesthesia is about five times as high as for adults; for newborns it is about 10 times as high.

Studies show there are fewer complications, better survival and shorter hospital stays when newborns and children undergo surgery in hospitals with expert resources for pediatric patients.

Because of their anatomy and growth stage, children have unique needs including specialized pediatric anesthesiologists, radiologists and emergency physicians. Yet close to half of pediatric surgeries take place in adult-focused general hospitals, which often lack dedicated pediatric staff and resources. That means children often don't receive optimal care and could face more postoperative risks, according to David Hoyt, executive director of the American College of Surgeons.

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