Online tool for teaching medical staff how to spot a sick child

9 December 2009

A unique online tool for healthcare professionals to improve their assessment of sick children has been launched by paediatricians at the University of Leicester and the University Hospitals, Leicester.

Spotting the Sick Child [1] was funded by the UK Department of Health and is aimed at all front line professionals in the field of child health and teaches the basic facts and relevant examination of the seven commonest presenting complaints in acutely ill children.

The website builds on the hugely successful DVD of the same name, which indicated that most healthcare practitioners lack training and confidence in acute paediatric illness, and are highly motivated to learn these skills.

The intended audience includes foundation doctors, emergency department doctors, paediatric doctors in training, general practitioners, nurses in GP surgeries, emergency departments and paediatric wards, health visitors, paramedics and ambulance technicians, and medical students.

Spotting the Sick Child allows learners with variable paediatric experience to learn basic assessment and communication skills for acutely ill children in hospital and primary care environments.

With the growth in Urgent Care facilities and staff, increased attendances to emergency departments, and increased acute hospital admissions, the need for a resource such as this is growing.

In addition, the CEMACH (Confidential Enquiry into Maternal and Child Health ) report 2008 ‘Why Children Die’ and NPSA report 2009 on Children and Young People emphasised poor recognition skills amongst frontline staff for identifying critically ill children.

“There is no comparable resource in this field, other than heavyweight textbooks which will not reach the majority of frontline practitioners,” say Dr Lakhanpaul and Dr Davies.

‘Spotting the Sick Child’ is used by learners and teachers alike. Real life footage of paediatric emergencies brings the learner their ‘virtual patient’. They learn from this and can self-test on patients in the ‘My Waiting Room’ cases.

‘My Learning’ tracks the learner’s progress to date, and acts as a repository for pulling their identified learning needs into a customised sub-section of the website. Within the core sections, footage of certain types of patients are repeated and compared so that confidence and skills acquisition in recognition is gained, as it would in real life practice.

Dr Ffion Davies, Consultant at University Hospital Leicester, produced the original DVD and is a leader in the field of education for paediatric emergency medicine in the UK. She provided the expertise needed to make filming happen ‘on the ground’, overcoming potential obstacles such as staff reticence, patient consent, institutional support, and the project management required to make such a product, where others have failed.

Dr Davies commented: “We are a very enthusiastic bunch of professionals, who believe that we are at the forefront of online learning. ‘Spotting the Sick Child’ is a lot more fun than most e-learning packages, and offers the user customisation and choice in a way that most do not.

“With the backing of the Department of Health and Royal Colleges our aim is to reach out to large numbers of practitioners, and prevent unnecessary critical illness and deaths in children.”

Dr Monica Lakhanpaul, Consultant Paediatrician in Leicester Community Children’s Services and Senior Lecturer in the Department of Medical and Social Care Education, Health education and research Development Unit at the University of Leicester, has experience of getting evidence into practice, especially through NICE guideline development and implementation.

Dr Lakhanpaul added: “More and more children are attending the emergency department. With this increase it is sometimes a challenge to recognise the acutely sick child. It requires confidence and appropriate skills.

“We hope that this new evidence-based educational tool, commissioned by the Department of Health, will support health professionals, especially those in the front line, and give them confidence to recognise and manage the sick child.”

Spotting the Sick Child version 2 is an online educational website and follows the large-scale success of its DVD predecessor, which sold more than 20,000 copies in the UK and worldwide.

The website was developed in a collaboration between Dr Monica Lakhanpaul, of the University of Leicester, who took the academic lead;  Dr Ffion Davies, who took the clinical lead at the University Hospital Leicester; and Dr. Nicholas Blackwell of OCB Media, a University of Leicester spinout company specialising in online medical education, was responsible for development.  The Health Education Research and Development Unit (HERADU) at the University of Leicester, led by Drs. Lakhanpaul and Blackwell, was instrumental in liaising with the Department of Health to realise the project.

Like the website, the DVD was commissioned by the Department of Health (England), and is endorsed by NPSA, RCPCH, RCGP, RCN and the College of Emergency Medicine.


1. Spotting the Sick Child website is at


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