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How to find the best ER for your child

  • Story Highlights
  • Pediatric ERs have child-sized equipment, pediatricians on staff
  • Before an emergency strikes, know where the nearest children's hospital is
  • Always carry a list of your child's medications
  • Call your pediatrician on the way to the emergency room
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By Elizabeth Cohen
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Empowered Patient, a regular feature from CNN Medical News correspondent Elizabeth Cohen, helps put you in the driver's seat when it comes to health care.

ATLANTA, Georgia (CNN) -- When Andrea Buie-Branam brought her asthmatic baby to the nearest emergency room, she thought she was doing the right thing. But once she got there, she began to suspect she wasn't in the right place.

When they need an emergency room, Collin and Gillian Branam's mom takes them to one for kids.

The nurse put an adult-sized mask on 9-month-old Gillian (they didn't have anything else). The mask was huge, and Gillian couldn't easily inhale the medicine to treat her asthma attack, her mom says. Then they had a hard time getting Gillian's blood pressure because the adult cuff was gigantic on her tiny arm. Everything was geared to adults. "I asked, 'Don't you have a pediatrician here?' and the doctor told me, 'No, we don't keep a pediatrician in the emergency room.' "

Buie-Branam pledged she'd never let this happen again. When she got home, she looked around on the Internet for an ER geared to kids. She found one and took Gillian there when she had another attack a few months later.

"It was a completely different experience," she says. "It was fabulous." Three years later when Gillian's younger brother, Collin, had a strangulated hernia, Buie-Branam raced him to the same ER. "They called in a surgeon who specialized in pediatrics. He was right there," she says.

When your child has an emergency, you want a hospital with child-sized medical equipment, pediatricians who are right there (or at least minutes away), and little things like cartoons in the examining room (A kid will sit through a procedure a lot more easily if she's watching cartoons; the news won't quite cut it). But how do you find a child-friendly ER -- and what are other ways to prepare for a trip to the ER with your child? Read on. Video Empowered Patient: Watch more on kids and emergency rooms »

1. Find the right hospital

Do this now, when everything's calm, not when your child's bleeding profusely. Find your category:

• You live near a children's hospital.

This is a no brainer -- go there. Find a hospital close to you with this list of children's hospitals in the U.S.

• There's a children's hospital in your area, but a general hospital is closer.

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This is a little trickier. Dr. Emory Petrack, director of the pediatric emergency department at Fairview Hospital in Cleveland, Ohio, says when it's a "truly critical emergency," get to the nearest hospital. (Truly critical emergencies include severe pain, trauma with multiple injuries, and difficulty breathing). "The child can receive initial emergency treatment and can be stabilized as needed," he says, and transferred to a children's hospital if necessary.

On the other end of the spectrum, if it's a relatively small problem (a minor burn, for example, or a cut that requires a few stitches) it may not be worth a long trip to a pediatric hospital, says Dr. Joseph Luria, medical director of the Emergency Department at Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center.

Luria says if the problem is in between minor and life-threatening, it could well be worth the trip to the children's hospital.

• You live far away from a children's hospital.

In this case, you've got some detective work to do. You have to figure out which hospital in your area is the most child-friendly. "Child friendly means both good medical care and staff that work well with babies and children," Petrack says.

Click here to find a child-friendly ER from the Joint Commission, which accredits hospitals. First, input your ZIP code. Then look on the left-hand side and you'll see "Type of Provider." Click on the arrow, and scroll down to"Pediatric Facility/Setting for Care" in the alphabetical listing, and select "Pediatric Emergency Department." Hit "search", and the site will give you a list of ERs that offer services for kids.

If "Pediatric Emergency Department" doesn't show up under "type of services," that means there isn't a "kid-certified" ER in your area. You can then go back to the ZIP code page and widen your search.

Keep in mind there may not be a "kid-certified" ER within a reasonable distance from your home. You can still take your child to a local hospital (and you should in case of an emergency); Petrack recommends asking your pediatrician and other parents for recommendations.

2. Keep a list of your child's medications with you at all times

In an emergency, you don't want to be digging through your rattled brain for the name of the medicine your child takes, the dosage, and how often she takes it. Have them written out and with you at all times. Click here for a medication form from from the National Initiative for Children's Healthcare Quality. (You'll have to register first, but it's quick, easy and free). Fill in the blanks on the form, print it out, fold it up, and put it in your wallet.

If your child has a medical condition, you should also keep a health history with you at all times. Click here for a form from the American Health Information Management Association. It's designed especially for children.

One more thing to keep in your bag: a small pad of paper and a few crayons. Mia Redrick, mother of three and a "mom coach," says tic tac toe and doodling can go a long way when you're sitting in the ER waiting room.

3. Someone else caring for your child? You need a consent-to-treat form

If your child is going to be in someone else's care, you need to sign a form giving the hospital consent to treat your child in your absence, advises John Vonhof, a paramedic and author of the booklet "A Parent's Guide to the Emergency Room: Managing Your Child's Crisis Without Fear."

Click here for a fill-in-the-blank consent form.

4. Bring in the poison

If your child ingests something toxic, bring in the product he ingested, and have an idea of the amount he swallowed. Click here for a list of common household items that can be toxic to your child. It's from the American Academy of Pediatrics.

5. Call your pediatrician on your way to the ER


She can then call the ER to let them know you're on the way. A call from a doctor can make things go more smoothly when you arrive.

If you have a minute, there's one more thing you can do on the way to the ER: Grab two types of toys. The first is a comfort toy (such as his favorite stuffed animal) and the second is a distraction toy (such as a Game Boy). A calm child is easier to treat, and distraction can help when a doctor is performing an unpleasant procedure. E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

Elizabeth Cohen is correspondent with CNN Medical News. Senior Producer Jennifer Pifer, Associate Producer Georgiann Caruson and video journalist Belinda Yu contributed to this report.

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