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5 Questions Parents Need to Ask Before Leaving the Emergency Room

Feb 06, 2020
Parent and child in emergency room with doctor

A sick child is every parent’s concern. Most aim to alleviate their kid’s discomfort at home and follow up with their pediatrician, but when an emergency room visit is required, that concern can become overwhelming.

ER visits are unplanned and usually happen when a child gets injured, suddenly ill or isn’t improving from a recent illness. These visits can be exhausting! There may be prolonged wait times, exposure to unfamiliar experiences and noises in the waiting room, multiple registration requirements and repeat evaluations of your already uncomfortable and anxious child.

These are unavoidable processes that are needed for proper care of your child. With these frustrations, it is easy to forget details of your child’s illness and forget to ask specific questions.

Once ready for discharge, it is not uncommon for both you and your child to excitedly, and hurriedly, request discharge papers and be on your way. Before you go, here are some questions you may want to ask.

  1. What was my child treated for?

    All symptoms and illness have a diagnosis. Some may be simple and others may be complex. Be sure to understand why your child was treated and if you don’t understand, ask for clarification from the providers.  

  2. What care did my child receive?

    As an emergency medicine pediatrician, when I ask parents what care their child received during their last visit, they rarely know.  This is useful information! It may drive treatment options and can avoid repeating interventions or medication that didn’t work during a previous visit. The expectation is not to know the names of the medications or the intricate details, but a little bit of information about your child’s care is essential.

    Ask for the meaning of blood testing and imaging (if any were done) and, if your child received medications, be sure to ask why. For examples, your child may have received a chest x-ray to check for pneumonia (an infection in the lungs) or received medication to help with pain.

  3. What do I do at home?

    When your child is getting discharged, it is likely because he or she is well enough to need no other treatment or is stable enough to continue treatment at home. Be clear about the treatment plan.

    If your child is prescribed medications for home use, know its dose, frequency and duration. For supportive care for things like a sprain, be sure to get details on how to do it and how often; for wounds, know how often to clean and change the wound dressing.

  4. When do I follow up?

    In most cases, your child is discharged to follow up with your pediatrician or another specialty. Do not assume your child has already been seen and treated and doesn’t need anything else. If you are being referred to a specialist, ask for contact details and know how to make that appointment. Hospitals function differently; while some may call you for follow-up, others may expect you to make the call yourself.

  5. When do I return to the emergency room?

    This is an important question because symptoms can change or progress and become worse. In some cases, mild symptoms that commonly occur with an illness may show up within later and may not necessarily mean another visit to the ER. For instance, in the case of a stomach virus, your child may have vomiting initially and diarrhea may develop within a few hours.

    Ask your providers what you should watch out for and over what period of time. Different illnesses have different courses and duration. Clarify what the ‘red flag’ symptoms are - these are symptoms for which your child must return to the emergency room for a recheck.

Visits can get overwhelming but having these questions at the back of your mind can make your visit worthwhile and put your mind at rest. Write these questions and the answers down for reference, especially in the case of a repeat visit

Providers may try their best to educate you but remember, you are the best advocate for your child. Be informed so you and your family can avoid multiple, unnecessary visits to the emergency room within a short time.

Urgent Care or Emergency Room?
For more information on when to seek appropriate care for your child, click here.

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Nationwide Children's Hospital Medical Professional
Nkeiruka Orajiaka, MBBS
Emergency Medicine

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700 Children’s® features the most current pediatric health care information and research from our pediatric experts – physicians and specialists who have seen it all. Many of them are parents and bring a special understanding to what our patients and families experience. If you have a child – or care for a child – 700 Children’s was created especially for you.