E. Brooke Lerner, PhD, chairs the steering committee of the Pediatric Emergency Care Applied Research Network.

Research Aimed at Improving Emergency Care for Children

Published January 29, 2020

E. Brooke Lerner, PhD, professor of emergency medicine, is leading a team studying how to significantly improve pediatric emergency medical services (EMS).

“I saw firsthand as an EMT and then as a paramedic how little we knew about the best care to provide to patients before they got to the emergency department, and fell in love with the idea of working to fill those knowledge gaps. ”
Professor of emergency medicine
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Lerner leads a research node of the Pediatric Emergency Care Applied Research Network (PECARN) and also serves as chair of its steering committee.

PECARN’s role is to conduct research on the prevention and management of acute illnesses and injuries in children and adolescents.

Focus on Acutely Ill and Injured Children

“Children, thankfully, are a small percentage of EMS calls. They make up between 7 and 10 percent of their call volume,” says Lerner, vice chair for research in the Department of Emergency Medicine.

“This is good, since no one wants kids to be sick, but it makes it really hard for prehospital care providers to stay skilled at treating kids,” she adds. “It means a single provider can go a long time without treating a kid, but at any moment could be called on to treat a child who needs emergent care.”

“This means that we have to be diligent about skill maintenance and practice, which is hard, because it requires resources that a lot of agencies don’t have,” Lerner says.

Seeking Innovations in Pediatric Treatments

PECARN is made up of seven research nodes and a data coordinating center. Six nodes are made up of three hospital emergency department affiliates and one emergency medical service affiliate each.

The hospital emergency departments in these six nodes serve approximately 1.3 million acutely ill and injured children every year. 

The seventh node, for which Lerner is principal investigator, is made up of emergency medical service affiliates.

The aim of the Charlotte, Houston, and Milwaukee Prehospital EMS Research Node Center (CHaMP) that Lerner oversees is to conduct research into significant innovations in prehospital pediatric treatments.

Although Buffalo’s Oishei Children’s Hospital is not an official hospital emergency department affiliate, it has a tremendous partnership with CHaMP and is a site for ongoing prehospital research, Lerner says. Oishei, along with the EMS agencies in Western New York, allow researchers to study the care of children in the prehospital setting.

Infrastructure Allows Studies at Multiple Sites

PECARN is part of the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. It falls under the Emergency Medical Services for Children program, which is administered by HRSA’s Maternal and Child Health Bureau.

CHaMP is funded by HRSA; it has $2.8 million in infrastructure funding. CHaMP’s three EMS affiliates and American Medical Response of Western New York collectively respond to 25,000 pediatric calls each year.

“It is really hard to do research on what is the best care to provide to children, so we frequently rely on studies from adult populations or from the hospital, both of which may not accurately reflect what the pediatric population in the out-of-hospital setting needs,” Lerner says. “That’s why PECARN has instituted a strong effort to build an infrastructure that can conduct pediatric EMS research at multiple sites.”

CHaMP is working on a study to improve the care of children having seizures and another for those who have respiratory distress. In addition, it is working on an intervention that will improve prehospital pain management in children, as well as one that will help EMS providers identify those children with medical complaints that need the resources of a children’s hospital. 

Network of EMS Agencies Assist in Research

PECARN also has a current study on identifying when children have a potential cervical spine injury to guide the care given by EMS providers.

“We have built a cadre of investigators who have the experience and pilot data to answer the important questions,” Lerner says. “We have done a number of pilot studies that are just getting launched into large multicenter projects.”

“We also have built a network of more than nine EMS agencies that are willing and able to work together on research,” she adds. “We have been building momentum and with this new award the large projects are poised to start.”

Lerner has been working with PECARN since its inception in 2001 to try to bring EMS research to the network. 

“It took a while for it to develop its emergency department infrastructure and it is just in the last six years with the funding of CHaMP that we have really been able to bring a focus to EMS, while still doing some outstanding work in the emergency department care of children,” Lerner says.

Worked as EMT, Paramedic Early in Career

Lerner’s interest in emergency medicine is long-standing. She worked as an emergency medical technician (EMT) when she was an undergraduate at UB in the 1990s.

She later became a paramedic, working both for a paid service in the city of Buffalo and volunteering with area agencies.

She became involved in research through a summer program at Erie County Medical Center and was a research assistant in the center’s emergency department while working toward her master’s degree in epidemiology and community health and her doctoral degree in epidemiology at UB.

“I saw firsthand as an EMT and then as a paramedic how little we knew about the best care to provide to patients before they got to the emergency department, and fell in love with the idea of working to fill those knowledge gaps,” she says. “I have been working to fill those gaps ever since.”