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Which observed behaviours may reassure physicians that a child is not septic? An international Delphi study
  1. Edward Snelson1,2,
  2. Shammi Ramlakhan1,3
  1. 1 Emergency Department, Sheffield Children’s Hospital NHS Foundation Trust, Sheffield, UK
  2. 2 Faculty of Health and Wellbeing, Sheffield Hallam University, Sheffield, UK
  3. 3 Faculty of Medical Sciences, The University of the West Indies, Saint Augustine, Trinidad and Tobago
  1. Correspondence to Dr Shammi Ramlakhan, Emergency Department, Sheffield Children’s NHS Foundation Trust, Sheffield, S10 2TH, UK; sramlakhan{at}


Objective In an attempt to improve the diagnosis of sepsis in children, diagnostic aids have concentrated on clinical features that suggest that sepsis is present. Clinicians need to be able to clinically rule out sepsis as well as rule it in. Little is known about which features are consistent with wellness and/or absence of sepsis. Guidelines are therefore likely to improve sensitivity without preserving specificity. We aimed to gather expert opinion on which (if any) features would make clinicians consider a child to be unlikely to have sepsis.

Design We undertook a modified two-round international Delphi study, where clinicians were asked for features they believed were indicators of wellness in an ill child.

Participants One hundred and ninety-five clinicians (predominantly physicians) who routinely assessed unwell children and had been doing so for most of their careers.

Results Over 90% of respondents rated age-appropriate verbalisation, playing, smiling and activity as reassuring that a child was unlikely to have sepsis. Eating, spontaneous interaction and normal movement were also agreed to be reassuring by over 70% of participants. Consolability and showing fear of the clinician were not felt to be adequately reassuring. There was wide range of opinion on how reassuring the use of an electronic device was thought to be.

Conclusions This study confirms that physicians are reassured by specific behaviours in ill children, and provides a framework which may be used to help guide the assessment of the unwell child. Validation of individual features could lead to improved specificity of diagnostic aids for diagnosing sepsis.

  • sepsis
  • general paediatrics
  • Delphi
  • infectious diseases

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  • Contributors ES conceived the idea and collected the data. ES and SR designed the study and collated data. SR wrote the first draft and analysed the data. Both authors contributed equally to subsequent drafts.

  • Funding The authors have not declared a specific grant for this research from any funding agency in the public, commercial or not-for-profit sectors.

  • Competing interests None declared.

  • Ethics approval Sheffield Children’s Hospital.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.

  • Data sharing statement Additional data may be available from the corresponding author.