The management of fever in young children is a controversial topic. This study seeks to compare the management approaches between general emergency medicine physicians (GEMPs) and pediatric emergency medicine physicians (PEMPs) and correlate them to existing practice guidelines.


All charts of children age 3 to 36 months presenting with the complaint of fever at both a children's hospital emergency department (ED) and a general ED from June 1, 1998 to September 1, 1998; December 1, 1998 to April 1, 1999; and June 1, 1999 to September 1, 1999 were retrospectively reviewed. Fever was defined as ≥39°C. Patients with a history of immunodeficiency, chronic illness, ventriculoperitoneal shunt, antibiotic use in the past 48 hours, or focal infection noted on examination were excluded. Data collected included focal exam findings, laboratory tests, diagnosis, treatment, and disposition. Variances from the practice guidelines were tabulated and compared.


One thousand three hundred twenty-three eligible children met exclusion criteria and were seen by PEMPs; 755 were eliminated because of exclusion criteria (526 because of focal infection). Twenty-two (4%) of 568 remaining patients were admitted to the hospital. Two hundred twenty-eight eligible children were seen by GEMPs; 147 were excluded (109 because of focal infection). No patients were admitted to the hospital. PEMPs ordered more complete blood counts (324/568 vs 27/81), more blood cultures (321/568 vs 27/81), and more urine cultures (208/568 vs 20/81) than GEMPs. GEMPs ordered more chest radiographs and cerebrospinal fluid analyses than PEMPs; GEMPs ordered less complete blood counts, blood cultures, and urine cultures than PEMPs. GEMPs diagnosed more focal infections (109/228 vs 526/1323), and conflicted more often with the practice guidelines (66/79 vs 225/498) than PEMPs. Patients spent an average of 2.26 ± 0.16 hours in the pediatric ED versus 3.0 hours ± 0.18 hours in the general ED.


Significant differences in the management of the young child with fever and no source exist between these two groups of physicians. These variations affect both cost and standard of care. Future studies assessing whether these strategies affect patient outcomes would further elucidate their clinical implication.

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