As health care and insurance costs rise, so do the number of Emergency Room visits. For those without insurance or not enough insurance, the ER has taken the place of primary care physicians. Health care concerns are always stressful, and when you have young children that stress is ten times worse. You can improve your quality of care, and alleviate some of the worry with a little planning and research.
BEFORE AN EMERGENCY ARISES
Research hospitals in your area. I spoke with Dr. Julie A. Mayglothling, MD, who specializes in emergency medicine and critical care at MCV Hospital in Richmond, VA. She stressed the importance of knowing nearby facilities. Different ERs are equipped to handle different types of emergencies. Many hospitals (but not all) have Pediatric Emergency Departments (PED) that specialize in treating children. Find the ones closest to where you live and to where your child attends school. If your child has a specific medical condition see if there is PED with better resources for treating that condition.
Keep your child’s medical history within reach. Always carry a list of your child’s medications and any medical conditions or allergies. If possible, bring your child’s medical history with you to the ER.
Find area Urgent Care Centers or Community Health Centers. If you don’t have insurance or can’t get to your pediatrician, use these facilities for check-ups, vaccinations, minor injuries, and mild illnesses.
NON-LIFE THREATENING ER VISITS
According to the Centers for Disease Control, fever, cough, or vomiting are among the top reasons for children’s ER visits. While you should always err on the side of caution when it comes to your child’s health, if you don’t believe the situation is life threatening the ER is not your best alternative. So, only if you believe the situation is NOT life threatening, call your pediatrician before going to the ER—many insurers require that you get a Primary Care Physician referral in order to cover such visits. If your pediatrician advises that you should go directly to the hospital, Dr. Mayglothling points out that the doctor can communicate with ER or PED staff, enabling them to treat your child more efficiently.
- Expect to wait—the ER is not first come first serve. Acute cases take precedence, so have a few distractions for the kids.
- Be precise and concise when you are describing symptoms. It will save time and help ensure that you receive the proper diagnosis and treatment.
- Remain calm. If you are calm and keep your child calm, it will make diagnosis and treatment much easier and much quicker.
LIFE-THREATENING ER VISITS
Hopefully you will never have to make this trip, but it pays to be prepared.
When in doubt, call an ambulance. Often in an emergency, parents are inclined to jump in the car and rush to the nearest hospital—this can be dangerous. Time is critical and EMS professionals may be able to perform life-saving procedures on the way to the hospital. They are also better informed about which facility will be able to deliver the fastest and best care.
Stay calm. This is probably the hardest thing for terrified parents, but you need to keep your child as calm as possible so that the doctors and nurses can assess the situation and administer treatment as quickly and painlessly as possible.
Call a friend or relative to meet you at the hospital. When you’re in a panic, it’s extremely difficult to process information, ask appropriate questions, answer questions, and make decisions. Another pair of eyes and ears will help you and the doctors manage the situation more effectively. Dr. Mayglothling also advises that you bring pen and paper so that you can take notes and record instructions.
Health Resources and Services Administration A national directory of Federally Funded Health Care Centers.
National Institute of Health, MedlinePlus Tons of information on everything healthcare related.
American College of Emergency Physicians Emergency Manual Everything you need to know about planning for and dealing with a medical emergency.