ER: How Does Yours Stack Up for Kids?

By Christina Elston

Knowing how to dial 9-1-1 is one way to prepare for an emergency. But you might also want to think about whether your local hospital emergency department is prepared to care for your child.

A December report in Pediatrics pointed out that only 6 percent of U.S. emergency departments have all of the equipment and supplies recommended for treating children. But Marianne Gausche-Hill, M.D., director of pediatric emergency medicine fellowships at Harbor-UCLA Medical Center and co-author of the study, reassures parents that as a general rule they can trust their local ER.

Al Sacchetti, M.D., spokesman for the American College of Emergency Physicians (ACEP), also asserts that emergency departments are "doing a phenomenal job of taking care of children." And, he says, equipment is only part of the picture.

Gausche-Hill's study focused on whether emergency departments were stocked with equipment - such as child-size tools for accessing veins and airways - listed in guidelines from the ACEP and the American Academy of Pediatrics.

Health Notes Archives - Click HereThe survey concluded that few departments had every item on the list, but 90 percent of emergency departments had 80 percent of the pediatric equipment required, according to Gausche-Hill.

Sacchetti contends that not every item on the list is critical. "Most of the places that were missing stuff were missing really minor pieces of equipment," he says.

More important for parents than a list of equipment, according to Sacchetti, is knowing how committed your local emergency department is to caring for children. He recommends calling the ER around 8 a.m. or 9 a.m., when they're likely to be least busy, and asking to talk with either the director or nurse manager of the department. Tell them how old your children are, ask how well prepared they would feel to care for them, and see how enthusiastically they respond. "If you've got a department that's enthusiastic about taking care of children, you know they're going to be prepared," Sacchetti says.

Gausche-Hill also suggests asking your pediatrician for recommendations, and learning the fastest routes to the hospital.

Sacchetti and Gausche-Hill both say, however, that you shouldn't bypass the closest ER in a critical situation. Even an emergency department that prefers not to see children can stabilize a critically ill child and transfer him somewhere more appropriate, Sacchetti insists.

"I know parents have bypassed hospitals trying to do the best thing for their child," says Gausche-Hill. "If the child had been seen even minutes earlier, it would have made a difference."

Christina Elston is a senior editor and health writer for Dominion Parenting Media.

Posted December 2007.

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