When your child is sick or injured, it's natural to panic
and head straight for the emergency room, because you know that you
can get care, regardless of the time, day, or severity of your
child's injury. In some cases, it is a true medical emergency
and the ER is the most appropriate place to get care.
In other cases, the illness or injury can be handled at an urgent
care clinic, or treatment can wait until your child's doctor
can see you.
When the ER is the right place to go, it's important to know
what to expect once you get there. Having this information ahead of
time can help make the experience a little less stressful.
Finding the Right ER at the Right Time
Talk with your doctor about what to do - and what ER to go to -
before you're in a situation where you may need to visit one.
The doctor may direct you to an ER that is close to you, or one in
a hospital where he or she regularly sees patients.
But in an emergency, should your child go to an ER at a
children's hospital? Because they're dedicated to caring
for kids, children's hospitals probably have the most pediatric
staff and facilities. So if it's an emergency and a
children's hospital is conveniently located, consider going
there. Otherwise, the community hospital nearest you will provide
the medical care needed. If for any reason the hospital isn't
equipped to treat your child's specific condition, the doctors
there will arrange a transfer to a facility that is.
Preparing to Go to the ER
When you go to the ER, it's important to have a good handle
on your child's symptoms. It's also important to know your
child's medical history - allergies, past illnesses, injuries,
surgeries, or chronic conditions. You may know this medical history
by heart. But consider writing it down so it's handy if you
feel flustered in the chaos of the emergency. And making a written
record readily available at home will allow anyone caring for your
child - such as a babysitter - to provide it if your child is seen
at the ER.
The medical history should include:
- medications your child is taking
- history of previous hospitalizations
- any previous surgeries
- relevant family history
If you go to the ER because your child has ingested a particular
medication or household product, bring the container of whatever
was ingested. That will help the doctors understand what kind of
treatment is required. If your child has swallowed an object, bring
an example of that object, if possible.
At any ER, except in the most serious emergencies, be prepared
to wait. If you have time before you leave the emergency room,
consider bringing something to do while you wait, such as books,
magazines, or bills to pay. You may also want to bring pen and
paper to write down any questions you have for the doctor. If your
child is not too ill, bring things for him or her to do as well,
such as crayons, books, toys, and comforting objects, like stuffed
If you think there's a chance that your child might have to
be admitted to the hospital, you may want to grab a change of
clothes and toothbrushes for you and your child.
Most ERs have some translation services or someone who can help
translate. If you do not speak English fluently, consider bringing
along a family member or friend who can help you translate.
What to Expect at the ER
There's no way to predict how long you'll have to wait
to be seen at the ER. If your child has a severe medical problem,
be assured that the doctors will provide whatever attention is
needed right away. Because doctors attend to the most severe
injuries and illnesses first, there's a good chance that if you
are there with a minor injury, you'll have to wait longer. Even
if the waiting room is empty, you still may have to wait if the
exam rooms are filled or many doctors and nurses are attending to a
particularly serious case.
While you wait, there's a chance that you - and your child -
may see some very sick and injured people come into the ER. The
sights and sounds of people who are seriously hurt or sick can be
frightening. So assure your child that the ER is the best place for
the hurt people to be and that this is where the doctors can help
them feel better. You might even give an example of a time when
someone you know was injured and, as scary as it was at the time,
all was fine after the doctor's care.
Soon after arriving at the ER, your child probably will be seen
by a nurse, who will ask about symptoms, check vital signs, and
make a quick assessment. This evaluation, also called
, helps determine the speed with which your child will be seen.
When you're in the ER, try to write down important
information that you hear. It's scary and stressful when your
child is in the ER, so it can be hard to remember details you may
need later, such as the names of the doctors, what they say about
the illness or injury, any medications or treatment they give your
child, and any directions for follow-up or care at home.
A specialist might not be on-site if you go to the ER on the
weekend or at night, but if the problem requires it, one will be
called in. If it requires surgery, a surgeon will be contacted.
In many cases, the doctor who treats your child in the ER will
contact your child's primary care doctor afterwards. If your
child is admitted to the hospital, the emergency room doctor will
let your doctor know. Some ERs provide written or
computer-generated documentation of the visit and others dictate
and fax the report to the primary care doctor. Carry a copy of the
papers you receive when your child is discharged to share with your
Kate M. Cronan, MD
Date reviewed: October 2008
Note: All information is for educational purposes only. For specific medical advice,
diagnoses, and treatment, consult your doctor.
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