Perhaps the most important way to ensure safety is to be an informed active participant of your child's health care team.
Learn as much as you can about your child's condition and the available treatments. Your primary source of information should be your health care provider and any specialists your child may be referred to. Always ask for written information regarding your child's condition, tests and treatment options. Additional resources include websites, books and medical organizations. Some people also find it helpful to speak with parents whose child has the same condition.
Research shows that patient outcome is better when the providers are experienced with the disease, procedure or surgery. Choose a hospital where many children undergo the same procedure your child needs.
Share your child's medical history with all caregivers. Include all medications: prescription, over the counter, vitamins and herbal preparations. Be sure to communicate the child's current dosages and the reason they were prescribed. The child's immunization history, previous hospitalizations, surgeries and additional health care providers who treat your child is also very important information.
If your child has any known allergies to food or medications be sure that this information and the type of reaction which occurred is communicated to all caregivers.
Keep a notebook for important information such as test results and medications. It's also a good idea to write down questions you may have for your provider so you won't forget.
If your child is admitted to the hospital plan to "room in". Most hospitals allow at least one parent to stay with the child throughout the hospitalization. If rooming in is not possible for your family, be sure to take advantage of the liberal visiting hours. Children are not able to directly question their own care and will benefit by having a parent or guardian present to advocate for them.
When your child is hospitalized ask which health care provider will be in charge of your child's care and how will you be able to contact him or her.
When tests and procedures are scheduled, always ask why they are being done, if they are any alternative ways to obtain the information and when you should expect to receive the results. Be sure that you have a plan for obtaining the results and what they mean for your child. Never assume that "no news is good news".
When your health care provider recommends a test or procedure be sure to ask how quickly it should be done and whether you have the option of doing it as an outpatient.
If surgery is planned be sure the surgeon is a board certified pediatric surgeon. Board certification means that the doctor has special training beyond that of a general surgeon. Additionally, ask if the anesthesiologist is board certified in pediatric anesthesiology.
If there is time to prepare before your child has surgery, be sure to attend a pre-surgery tour. This allows both child and parent the opportunity to meet the staff, ask questions and become familiar with the hospital and equipment.
All those caring for your child should identify who they are and what role they will have in your child's care. Each health care provider should be wearing an identification badge. If you don't see it, ask.
Your child should be wearing an identification band. Check it for accuracy. If your child has allergies he or she should wear an additional band. Never remove the band and be sure to explain to your child why it is so important. Insist that health care providers check it before they give medications or perform procedures.
Know when your child is scheduled to receive medications and treatments. If you think something has been missed bring it to the attention of the staff. If something is new or unfamiliar be sure to ask questions.
Be sure that your child has been weighed and that it is recorded in the chart. Most children's medications are based on weight making it very important that the weight be recent and accurate.
The last thing your hospitalized child needs is to acquire an infection while hospitalized. There are ways to decrease the spread of infection and the best way is proper hand washing. Be sure that everyone who cares for your child washes their hands before coming in contact with your child. Make sure that you as well as your child also wash your hands frequently.
Hospitals work very hard to be sure that the physical environment is free from things which could cause harm to patients. As a parent you know how curious children can be. Be sure to carefully look at your child's hospital room and if you think that anything could present a danger (i.e. uncovered electrical outlets) notify the staff.
When your child is ready for discharge be sure you are clear about the plan of treatment, when you need to return for follow-up and what you should in the event of complications. Ask when the child will be able to return to school and sports.
Be sure to get a written summary of the hospitalization.
Remember if at any time something doesn't seem right: speak up and when possible encourage your child to communicate his needs and concerns.
Acknowledgement: Agency for Health Research and Quality.
This information is provided by the Betsy Lehman for Patient Safety and Medical Error Reduction within the Department of Public Health.