10 Tips for An Easier ER Trip

Nearly 24 million children visit an emergency room each year in the United States, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics. When your child spikes a fever in the middle of the night, develops a holiday-weekend ear infection, bumps his head, breaks a bone or – God forbid – something worse, you’ll make that trip to the ER. The following tips help you know what to do when the time comes:


1. Plan ahead. Where are your nearest emergency rooms? Do you know which hospital your pediatrician is affiliated with? Ask these questions before you face a crisis. While your insurance should pay for a visit to any hospital in the case of a true emergency, talk to your doctor and read your medical plan or call your insurer to learn which hospitals are considered within or outside of your network of coverage.


2. Consider a pediatric emergency room. Some children’s hospitals have emergency rooms geared especially to kids. In a serious emergency, however, doctors stress that you don’t want to travel long distances just to get to a pediatric ER. Go to the closest ER, period. Children often are transferred to a pediatric facility if they need specialty care once they’re stabilized at their nearest hospital.


3. Call your pediatrician first. If you can reach your pediatrician’s office or advice nurse, do so. They may be able to stitch up that head wound in the office or suggest you go to a pediatric urgent care clinic, which charges less than an emergency room.

They can also give advice over the phone and, if you do need to head to the ER, can call ahead and brief ER staff on what to expect. Parents should not hesitate to call 911 in a serious emergency, from a potential back or head injury to seizures to breathing difficulty.


4. Treat your child at home. Treat fever or pain with over-the-counter medicines before heading to the hospital. Doctors advise Tylenol and Motrin, safe medicines that can make a difference to your child. Don’t worry that you may mask your child’s symptoms, but do tell ER staff that you’ve given your child this medicine.


5. Stay calm. When a mother or father panics, a child’s anxiety level goes up as well. Take a deep breath and clear your head to reassure your child and make the best decisions.


6. Leave siblings at home. See if a neighbor or friend can watch the other kids while you head to the ER with the patient. You need to focus on your child and doctors’ instructions without the added stress of tending to additional children.


7. Bring your child’s medical history and list of medications. A medication list, covering everything from prescription medications to over-the-counter painkillers to homeopathic medicines, vitamins and supplements is extremely valuable to ER doctors. A list of the immunizations a child has had can also affect their treatment.


8. Bring a comfort item for your child. A favorite stuffed animal, blanket or book can help take your child’s mind off the pain and give him some sense of control.


9. Be patient. Understand that there may be a good reason for a long ER wait. Emergency rooms help the sickest patients first. If your pediatrician calls the hospital before your arrival, it can also help speed the sorting process.


10. Speak up and ask questions. The ER staff wants parents to advocate and speak up for their children. If a child needs more pain control, if you don’t think she’s ready to go home, or if you have a gut feeling about what the child’s crying means, speak up. Don’t be afraid to ask repeated questions.


Janine DeFao is an associate editor with Dominion Parenting Media.

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