BACKGROUND: The American Society of Anesthesiologists physical status (ASA-PS) classification system is used worldwide to classify patients based on comorbid conditions before general anesthesia. Despite its popularity, the ASA-PS classification system has been shown to have poor interrater reliability due to its subjective definitions, especially when applied to the pediatric population. We hypothesized that the clarification of ASA-PS definitions to better reflect pediatric conditions would improve the accuracy of ASA-PS applied to this population.
METHODS: A stratified, randomized sample of 120 pediatric surgical cases was collected from a tertiary-care pediatric hospital. A team of senior anesthesiologists reclassified ASA-PS within this patient sample using the suggested pediatric-specific ASA-PS definitions. Interrater reliability was measured using intraclass correlation (ICC) and Fleiss κ statistic. In addition, a qualitative study component using small focus groups of senior anesthesiologists identified areas of ambiguity within the ASA-PS system.
RESULTS: Among the 90 reclassifications within each ASA-PS group, 42.2% (n = 38) of ASA-PS I were upgraded to ASA-PS II, and 36.7% (n = 33) of ASA-PS II were upgraded to ASA-PS III. In addition, 28.9% (n = 26) of ASA-PS III were upgraded to ASA-PS IV, and 24.4% (n = 22) of ASA-PS IV were downgraded to III. ICC across the reclassified ASA-PS categories was 0.77 (95% confidence interval [CI], 0.71–0.83; P < .001) demonstrating strong overall agreement. Fleiss κ statistic was lowest in ASA-PS II and III patients (κ = 0.41 and κ = 0.30, respectively) indicating lower agreement beyond chance within these subgroups. Focus groups revealed common themes such as active sequelae of disease, active versus well-controlled presence of comorbidities, and the possible inclusion of functional limitations as important considerations.
CONCLUSIONS: The ASA-PS classification system has several benefits including ease-of-use, simplicity, and flexibility. However, revising the ASA-PS system to provide better guidance for pediatric patients could be valuable. While this study demonstrates good interrater reliability with the included ASA-PS pediatric definitions, further work is needed to clarify accurate assignment of ASA-PS within the midrange of the scale (ASA-PS II and III) and explore its implementation in other institutions.