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INTRODUCTION: Paediatric consultations form a significant proportion of all consultations in ambulatory care. Point-of-care tests (POCTs) may offer a potential solution to improve clinical outcomes for children by reducing diagnostic uncertainty in acute illness, and streamlining management of chronic diseases. However, their clinical impact in paediatric ambulatory care is unknown. We aimed to describe the clinical impact of all in-vitro diagnostic POCTs on patient outcomes and healthcare processes in paediatric ambulatory care. METHODS: We searched MEDLINE, EMBASE, Pubmed, Cochrane Central Register of Controlled Trials, Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, and Web of Science from inception to 29 January 2020 without language restrictions. We included studies of children presenting to ambulatory care settings (general practice, hospital outpatient clinics, or emergency departments, walk-in centres, registered drug shops delivering healthcare) where in-vitro diagnostic POCTs were compared to usual care. We included all quantitative clinical outcome data across all conditions or infection syndromes reporting on the impact of POCTs on clinical care and healthcare processes. Where feasible, we calculated risk ratios (RR) with 95% confidence intervals (CI) by performing meta-analysis using random effects models. RESULTS: We included 35 studies. Data relating to at least one outcome were available for 89,439 children of whom 45,283 had a POCT across six conditions or infection syndromes: malaria (n = 14); non-specific acute fever 'illness' (n = 7); sore throat (n = 5); acute respiratory tract infections (n = 5); HIV (n = 3); and diabetes (n = 1). Outcomes centred around decision-making such as prescription of medications or hospital referral. Pooled estimates showed that malarial-POCTs (Plasmodium falciparum) better targeted antimalarial treatment by reducing over-treatment by a third compared to usual care (RR 0.67; 95% CI [0.58 to 0.77], n = 36,949). HIV-POCTs improved initiating earlier antiretroviral therapy compared to usual care (RR, 3.11; 95% CI [1.55 to 6.25], n = 912). Across the other four conditions, there was limited evidence for the benefit of POCTs in paediatric ambulatory care except for acute respiratory tract infections (RTI) in low-and-middle-income countries (LMICs), where POCT C-Reactive Protein (CRP) may reduce immediate antibiotic prescribing by a third (risk difference, -0.29 [-0.47, -0.11], n = 2,747). This difference was shown in randomised controlled trials in LMICs which included guidance on interpretation of POCT-CRP, specific training or employed a diagnostic algorithm prior to POC testing. CONCLUSION: Overall, there is a paucity of evidence for the use of POCTs in paediatric ambulatory care. POCTs help to target prescribing for children with malaria and HIV. There is emerging evidence that POCT-CRP may better target antibiotic prescribing for children with acute RTIs in LMIC, but not in high-income countries. Research is urgently needed to understand where POCTs are likely to improve clinical outcomes in paediatric settings worldwide.

Original publication




Journal article


PloS one

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