Variable Identification of Children with Medical Complexity in United States PICUs

Julia A. Heneghan, Denise M. Goodman, Sriram Ramgopal

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Scopus citations


OBJECTIVES: Children with medical complexity are at increased risk for critical illness and adverse outcomes. However, there is currently no consensus definition of medical complexity in pediatric critical care research. DESIGN: Retrospective, cross-sectional cohort study. SETTING: One hundred thirty-one U.S. PICUs participating in the Virtual Pediatric Systems Database. SUBJECTS: Children less than 21 years old admitted from 2017 to 2019. Multisystem complexity was identified on the basis of two common definitions of medical complexity, Pediatric Complex Chronic Conditions (CCC), greater than or equal to 2 qualifying diagnoses, and Pediatric Medical Complexity Algorithm (PMCA), complex chronic disease. INTERVENTIONS: None. MEASUREMENTS AND MAIN RESULTS: Of 291,583 index PICU admissions, 226,430 (77.7%) met at least one definition of multisystem complexity, including 168,332 patients identified by CCC and 201,537 by PMCA. Of these, 143,439 (63.3%) were identified by both definitions. Cohen kappa was 0.39, indicating only fair agreement between definitions. Children identified by CCC were younger and were less frequently scheduled admissions and discharged home from the ICU than PMCA. The most common reason for admission was respiratory in both groups, although this represented a larger proportion of CCC patients. ICU and hospital length of stay were longer for patients identified by CCC. No difference in median severity of illness scoring was identified between definitions, but CCC patients had higher inhospital mortality. Readmission to the ICU in the subsequent year was seen in approximately one-fifth of patients in either group. CONCLUSIONS: Commonly used definitions of medical complexity identified distinct populations of children with multisystem complexity in the PICU with only fair agreement.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)56-61
Number of pages6
JournalPediatric Critical Care Medicine
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 1 2023

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Dr. Goodman received funding from Elsevier and McGraw-Hill. The remaining authors have disclosed that they do not have any potential conflicts of interest.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2023 Lippincott Williams and Wilkins. All rights reserved.


  • chronic disease
  • epidemiology
  • intensive care unit
  • pediatric

PubMed: MeSH publication types

  • Journal Article


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