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A Trip to the ER

Visiting the Emergency Room

It’s 3 p.m. and your son is feeling feverish for the third straight day. You’ve tried a wait-and-see approach but his fever came back just when you thought it was gone. Now the thermometer reads 102 and your pediatrician’s booked solid. Should you seek emergency care or wait another day? You don’t want to be that mom but you don’t want to be negligent either.

If you decide to head to the hospital, you won’t be alone. Twenty-six percent of children younger than 6 visit the emergency room each year, most because of fever. Common diagnoses include viral illness, ear infection, respiratory tract infection or pneumonia. Even if your child’s condition isn’t life threatening, a diagnosis – and a prescription for antibiotics, if necessary – will make you all feel better faster.

Before You Go

Call ahead if you know your child needs a specialist, advises Ron Clark, M.D., attending emergency physician at the Hospital of Central Connecticut and author of Surviving the Emergency Room. If you need a hand or eye surgeon to stitch up a nasty cut, ask if one is available. Specialists don’t work every day, Clark says. A quick call can save time and aggravation (a transfer to another hospital can take hours).

Contact your pediatrician. She may call ahead to inform the emergency room staff that you’re coming and provide background information, Clark says. The emergency physician may be meeting your child for the first time. Your pediatrician has the long view.

Be prepared to answer questions about your child’s medical history, says Ron San Juan, M.D., director of pediatric urgent care for Mercy Medical Center in Baltimore. You’ll be asked when symptoms began, how they have changed over time, what medications your child took and when. Bring those medications with you: prescription labels provide useful dosing and pharmacy contact information. You’ll also need your child’s physicians’ names and phone numbers. Store them in your phone or wallet.

Bring a familiar, loved object – stuffed animal, blanket, or baseball glove – and entertainment options — coloring books and handheld video games — for your child. Only 18 percent of patients are seen within 15 minutes of arrival. Plan to wait.

Get Quality Care

You are your child’s advocate. Don’t be afraid to speak up. If you’re triaged to a spot in the hallway, ask the doctor to give your child a complete exam in a room, Clark says. Also find out when the doctor’s shift ends. Delays and oversights can happen when your child’s care is transferred to a successor. Ask the doctor to introduce you to the incoming caregiver before he leaves. Continuity is critical.

It’s important that doctors take the time to explain the diagnosis and treatment plan, says San Juan. If you don’t understand the initial explanation, ask for clarification. Sometimes an extra few minutes with the doctor can eliminate hours of worry. Have a staff member write down difficult diagnoses so you remember them and can communicate accurately with other medical providers.

Bedside Manners Matter

Emergency medical providers often see 25 to 30 patients per shift, Clark says. Respect their time. Don’t summon staff to your child’s room repeatedly if your concerns can wait. “You don’t want to become the squeaky wheel,” says Clark. Health care providers may unconsciously avoid the room with the “difficult parent.” Write down questions or concerns and raise them when it is your child’s turn with the doctor. It’s in everyone’s best interest for your child to get high-quality, timely care. Be patient and polite.


Don’t be surprised if staff members ask you to repeat information you provided earlier, Clark says. They’re trained to verify; it doesn’t mean they weren’t listening. Before discharge, ask how to care for your child at home and when to follow up. Get clear guidance on prescribed medications and potential side effects. And don’t forget to say thank you. Your gratitude encourages staff members to give the next patient quality care, too.



All Children’s Hospital

501 Sixth Ave., St. Petersburg, 727-898-7451

All Children’s Hospital is the only specialty licensed children’s hospital on Florida’s west coast. Founded in 1926, All Children’s has grown into a leading pediatric referral center that is dedicated to advancing treatment, education, research and advocacy in child health.


Florida Hospital

Multiple bay area locations, 877-482-4362

Women’s Center at Florida Hospital Tampa,

Women’s services and pediatrics are just two of the many services offered by Florida Hospital in its bay area hospitals. The hospital’s commitment is to improve the quality of life of patients, family, friends and neighbors all across the state.


Lakeland Regional Medical Center

300 Parkview Place, Lakeland, 863-687-1300

Families are important to Lakeland Regional. From the awe of childbirth and trying toddler times through midlife and the golden years, the medical center offers obstetrics, neonatal ICU, pediatrics and women’s health services.


Medical Center of Trinity

Locations in Trinity and New Port Richey, 727-834-4000

With a clinical staff of over 400 physicians and more than 500 health practitioners, the Medical Center of Trinity offers a broad spectrum of comprehensive medical and surgical services. Its two health campuses strengthen its ability to administer the best healing practices, using innovative medical treatments and some of the area’s brightest medical talent.


Morton Plant Mease

Multiple bay area locations

A not-for-profit health care system comprised of hospitals, outpatient and surgical centers, immediate care centers, rehabilitation centers, wellness centers, a family health center and a home health care agency, its vision is to be recognized as Florida’s preeminent community-focused health care organization. This vision is brought to life through the caring and commitment of more than 6,900 team members and 1,220 highly qualified physicians.


Shriners Hospitals for Children

12502 USF Pine Drive, Tampa, 813-972-2250

Providing the highest quality care to children with neuromusculoskeletal conditions, burn injuries and other special health care needs within a compassionate, family-centered and collaborative care environment is the mission of this nationwide health system. Shriners is an unquestioned leader, nationally and internationally, in caring for children and advancing the field in its specialty areas.


St. Anthony’s Hospital

1200 Seventh Ave. N., St. Petersburg, 727-825-1100

Built with a mission to always put the patient first, St. Anthony’s has continued this tradition for more than 80 years. Today’s 395-bed hospital is recognized as one of the area’s most technologically advanced medical facilities.


St. Joseph’s Hospital

3001 W. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd., Tampa, 813-554-8500

St. Joseph’s Women’s Hospital,

St. Joseph’s Children’s Hospital,

St. Joseph’s Hospital is well known throughout the southeast as a leader in pediatric heart and cancer care. With 80 pediatric physician specialists, representing 25 medical and surgical disciplines, its board certified staff offers the highest quality care.


Tampa General Hospital Children’s Medical Center

1 Tampa General Circle, Tampa


From emergency services to pediatric rehabilitation, the Children’s Medical Center delivers specialized care tailored exclusively to pediatric patients. Pediatric specialties include cardiology, neurology and surgery.

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