700 Children's® – A Blog by Pediatric Experts

5 Questions Parents Need to Ask Before Leaving the Emergency Room

Mar 16, 2023
Parent and child in emergency room with doctor

Visits to the emergency department are typically unplanned and stressful. There may be prolonged wait times, multiple registration requirements, unfamiliar experiences, blood work, x-rays, and multiple examinations. The providers and staff strive to be kind and efficient, but for many children and families, discomfort, impatience, and anxiety are very real parts of the experience. So, it’s understandable when parents want their paperwork and are eager to leave when the visit winds down to a close.

However, before leaving the ER, there are some important questions parents should ask!

What is Causing my Child’s Symptoms?

Every ER visit ends with a diagnosis. Some are simple and easy to understand, while others are complex and made up of unfamiliar words. It’s important to understand the cause of your child’s symptoms, so if you aren’t sure what is wrong, ask for explanations and clarifications from your medical providers. 

What Care did my Child Receive?

This is important information! The results of lab work and imaging help establish the diagnosis and determine ongoing medical treatment after the visit is over. It’s useful to know what was done, what worked and what did not work. This knowledge can prevent duplication of tests and help providers determine the best course of action at future visits. You don’t need to remember every drug name of the fine details of tests and x-rays, but being able to share information about the visit with your primary care doctor or during future ER visits is essential. For example, your child may have had a chest x-ray to check for pneumonia, IV fluids to correct dehydration, or a breathing treatment to relieve wheezing.

What do I do at Home?

It’s important to understand your child’s treatment plan. If your provider prescribes a medication for home use, verify the dose, frequency, and duration. You can ask why a particular medication is being used, the anticipated result of using it, and possible side effects. If your child is given a splint or sling, ask how long it should be used and whether bathing or sleeping in the device is allowed. For burns and wounds, it’s important to understand how often to clean the wound and change the dressing.

Where and When do I Follow Up?

In many cases, your child is expected to follow up with your primary care provider or a specialist. If the details are not clear, ask who your child should see and when they should see them. If you are referred to a specialist, ask for contact details and the procedure for making the appointment. In some cases, the specialty clinic will reach out to parents, while others expect parents to call. Some specialists may require a referral from your primary care provider. Understanding these details while still in the ER will save you time and make your follow-up visit easier to schedule.

When do I Return to the Emergency Room?

Symptoms can change or become worse with time. These symptoms may be harmless and expected or they may require another trip to the ER. For example, a child with a stomach virus may have vomiting in the beginning and develop diarrhea a few days later. If they are keeping fluids down and have no signs of dehydration, it may be okay to give the diarrhea a few days to get better. On the other hand, a child with abdominal pain that is getting worse should be seen again. Ask your provider what symptoms to expect and over what time period. Clarify the “red flag” symptoms. These are symptoms for which your child must return to the emergency room for a recheck.

Emergency room visits can be overwhelming. By asking these questions, you will have a better understanding of what is wrong with your child, how to treat their symptoms, and when and where to return for a follow-up visit. This information can provide peace of mind and prevent an unnecessary return to the emergency room.
Looking for More Parenting Tips?
Sign Up for Our Health e-Hints Newsletter

Featured Expert

Nationwide Children's Hospital Medical Professional
Mike Patrick, MD
Emergency Medicine; Host of PediaCast

Dr. Mike Patrick is an Assistant Professor of Pediatrics at the Ohio State University College of Medicine and Medical Director of Interactive Media for Nationwide Children's Hospital. Since 2006, he has hosted the award-winning PediaCast, a pediatric podcast for parents. Dr. Mike also produces a national podcast for healthcare providers—PediaCast CME, which explores general pediatric and faculty development topics and offers free AMA PRA Category 1 Credit™ to listeners.

All Topics

Browse by Author

About this Blog

Pediatric News You Can Use From America’s Largest Pediatric Hospital and Research Center

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.