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Children's Death Rates Fall Sharply in Intensive Care Units

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Press Release Date: October 7, 1998

A child given intensive care for a serious respiratory illness or other life-threatening disease has a significantly better chance of surviving now than he or she would have as recently as a little over a decade ago, according to a new federally sponsored study in the journal, Critical Care Medicine.

The study, which was jointly sponsored by the Agency for Health Care Policy and Research (AHCPR) and the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA), indicates that the death rate of children admitted to hospital pediatric intensive care units for such killer diseases as asthma, bronchitis and pneumonia declined by 45 percent between the early to mid-1980s and 1993.

According to the researchers, who were led by John M. Tilford, Ph.D., of Arkansas Children's Hospital in Little Rock, the study suggests that the falling death rates are the result of improvements over time in the quality of intensive care, such as better ventilation technology.

"The findings clearly show the pay off from investing in better quality of care. Thanks to it, children who would have died 15 years ago can now survive and grow up to be healthy adults," said AHCPR's Administrator, John M. Eisenberg, M.D., M.B.A. "Health services research studies, such as this one, play an important role in understanding and improving quality of care."

"Specialized health care for children with pediatric emergencies is a matter of life and death," said HRSA Administrator Claude Earl Fox, M.D., M.P.H. "This study shows that national standards for training and care developed through our Emergency Medical Services for Children Program are working."

The researchers also examined mortality risk by age, regardless of condition, and found that death rates declined the most for younger children. The death rate of infants less than one month of age treated in hospital pediatric intensive care units dropped by 39 percent, while that of babies one to 12 months of age fell by 28 percent. The death rate for children as a whole treated in hospital pediatric intensive care units during the period declined by 15 percent.

AHCPR and HRSA are agencies of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. AHCPR supports and conducts research to improve the quality, effectiveness, and cost-effectiveness of health care, as well as access to services. HRSA is the department's lead agency for improving access to health care for all Americans.

The full text of the article is available in the October issue of Critical Care Medicine. Information on HRSA's Emergency Medical Services for Children Program can be found at

Note to Editors: Dr. Tilford can be reached through the Arkansas Children's Hospital public relations department at (501) 320-4300.

For additional information, please contact AHCPR Press Office: Karen Migdail, (301) 427-1855 (; Salina Prasad, (301) 427-1864 (, or the HRSA Press Office at (301) 443-3376.

The information on this page is archived and provided for reference purposes only.


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