5 Secrets From a Pediatric ER Director: How to Save Time and Head Off Hassles

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Here are some expert tips from Dr. Cory D. Showalter.

A visit to the emergency room can be a stressful experience, especially when it’s your child who needs treatment. “But, there’s a lot that parents can do to help make the emergency room experience as efficient and helpful as it can be,” shares Cory D. Showalter, MD, Medical Director of Pediatric Emergency Medicine at Riley Hospital for Children at Indiana University Health. Here, his inside tips.

1. In a true emergency, call 911 immediately.

For a life-threatening medical problem, don’t try to drive your child to the hospital yourself.

“With things like difficulty breathing or severe injury, you should be calling an ambulance,” says Dr. Showalter. This way, your child can begin receiving care by the EMTs as soon as they arrive at your home. If your child has swallowed something poisonous, calling poison control (800.222.1222) is also recommended.

2. If there’s time, phone your pediatrician first.

Before you leave your house to travel to the ER, give your child’s doctor a call. Dr. Showalter says this is helpful for two reasons: “First, your pediatrician can help determine if the ER really is the best place for you to go,” he says. In some cases, the problem might not require emergency treatment, and would be better handled by your pediatrician or by a specialist.

Secondly, even in situations where it’s obvious that an ER visit is necessary (such as in the case of a broken bone or a severe laceration), calling your pediatrician first allows him or her to then call the ER to give them advanced notice that you’re on your way in. “A productive visit starts when your pediatrician calls first to give us what we call “pre-arrival information” such as your child’s medical history, so we know what to expect and can be better prepared,” says Dr. Showalter. That pre-arrival call will also help the emergency department arrange for any consulting doctors that might be needed, such a pediatric ophthalmologist or a plastic surgeon, for example.

3. Bring medical records, if possible.

If your child has a chronic medical condition or has had treatment for a particular medical problem in the past, having a record of past tests or procedures can help the ER doctors do a more thorough evaluation of your child.

This can also help prevent unnecessary tests, says Dr. Showalter. “So if you just came from another place that did X-rays, make sure to bring copies of those X-rays with you,” he says.

4. Be honest with the doctors and nurses.

“People are sometimes embarrassed about their child's incomplete immunization status or their use of alternative therapies,” says Dr. Showalter, but that’s information that can be extremely valuable to the people who are taking care of your child.

5. Stay calm for your child’s sake.

“Children will directly mirror your emotions,” he says, “so if you can keep it together for your child, he or she will benefit greatly from your calm demeanor,” he says. This advice is especially important for things like laceration repair. “We find that if a child requires suture repair and the parents are calm and supportive, then there’s less of a need for sedating medicine,” he adds.

-- By Patricia Scanlon

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