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The difference between a children’s emergency room and an adult emergency room that every parent should know

September 11, 2015

No one plans to end up in the emergency room. It just happens, usually when we least expect it. When our children become sick or injured, we are faced with difficult choices. Where is the best place to get care for my child? How do I know there isn’t something seriously wrong? Can I trust these caregivers to do the right thing for my kid?

There are no manuals to give us all the right answers, but there’s one thing that is helpful for a parent to know. Where you take your child to receive medical care matters. Knowing the difference between a children’s emergency room and an adult emergency room can help you make the best decisions for your child during those critical moments.

The Expertise

One of the most important considerations in choosing a medical facility is the expertise of the medical providers. The emergency department within a children’s hospital offers caregivers who have received specialized training to take care of kids. Pediatric Emergency Physicians have completed one of two routes of training after medical school: a three-year residency in Emergency Medicine followed by a two-year fellowship in Pediatrics or a three-year residency in Pediatrics followed by a three-year fellowship in Emergency Medicine. In other words, these professionals have spent a lot of extra time focusing solely on kids. And that’s a good thing because as any doctor will tell you- what you see the most is what you know the best.

A children’s hospital that sees only children will undoubtedly be better able to handle more complex issues that arise in children than if they were seen in an adult facility. If your child is seen in an adult emergency room for a minor issue such as an ear infection, it can likely be handled there with no problem. However, it’s the one in 1,000 chance that the minor issue might actually be a major issue that makes a children’s emergency room a better place to be. Could the stomachache simply be constipation or could it be an ominous sign of something more serious? Is a headache just a headache or could it lead to a brain tumor diagnosis?

Andrea Schuermann, nurse manager for the Emergency Department at Arnold Palmer Hospital says,

“This particular emergency department is designed to meet the needs of every pediatric patient in this community and beyond with the best resources, the best technology and the best staff.”

The Resources

The resources available in a pediatric emergency room are another important component, in terms of the equipment used and the availability of highly specialized physician partnerships.

When it comes to equipment, adult medicine often employs a “one size fits all” mentality, and that works for adults. However, children come in all different sizes. Pediatric emergency rooms have different sized equipment (catheters and chest tubes, for example) to meet the needs of children of any age.

Most medications are also developed with adults in mind. In a pediatric hospital, specially trained pharmacists formulate adult intravenous medications into specific concentrations appropriate for children. For medications taken by mouth, they may take pills and compound them into liquids since children often cannot swallow pills. Diseases are often treated differently depending on the age or weight of the child, and special care is taken to ensure that for each child, the dose, route and rate of medication delivery is tailored to the child’s needs.

The ability of an emergency room to treat patients successfully also depends heavily on the network of subspecialists available for consultation. Here at Arnold Palmer Hospital, if a child needs care beyond the Emergency Room there is a whole team of specialists available in nearly every area of medicine. Anything from brain surgery to sports injuries to intestinal problems- experts in each area who are specially trained in the care of kids are just a phone call away.

While adult hospitals will likely refer or transport a child who is in need of specialized care to the appropriate places, the benefit of a Children’s Emergency Room is that you have the best care at your bedside from the very beginning. Precious time isn’t lost waiting for transport to another hospital. The physicians in each specialty know each other and collaborate in your child’s care in a way that simply isn’t possible in other settings.

The Experience

For a mom and dad, it’s not only about the medical care, but a primary concern is also the experience- what it’s like when they’re here. Anyone who has spent time in a children’s emergency room will tell you, the experience is very different than an adult facility. Here at Arnold Palmer Hospital, there are playrooms, video games and a child-friendly atmosphere; it’s a place that looks fun, inviting and safe. Your child isn’t sitting in a room full of grown-ups with grown-up problems- you’re surrounded by other parents caring for their children just like you are.

In an emergency room where the staff is dedicated to knowing children inside and out, the approach to medical care also looks very different. For example, if you’re child has a cut on her face that needs stitches, pediatric caregivers are more likely to provide sedation for the child to ease her anxiety, making for a much less traumatic experience. It’s not that adult caregivers aren’t sensitive to a child’s fear or pain, but caregivers who see children every day are more comfortable with techniques specifically tailored to kids. Pediatric caregivers understand how to talk to children, how to communicate based on their stage of development and they know how to comfort and ease the anxiety of the littlest patients. Perhaps most importantly, though, they understand the value of listening to Mom and Dad. As Dr. Mark Clark, director of the Emergency Department at Arnold Palmer Hospital says:

“One of the most important things you do as a pediatrician is listen to the parents, and you trust the parents.”

Another unique advantage that a children’s hospital provides is a Child Life Specialist, a specially trained staff member who helps a child and their family cope with the experience of being in the hospital. A Child Life Specialist may help prepare your child for surgery by demonstrating with a stuffed animal how the doctors will care for him or provide a fun distraction for a kid undergoing a procedure. In other words, a Child Life Specialist helps your kid be a kid, even if they’re in the hospital.

Nearly every staff member you encounter in a children’s hospital will gladly tell you- they are here because they love kids. That helps make the experience as positive as it possibly can be for every patient who comes through the doors.

Dr. Clark sums it up best when he says,

“None of our colleagues in the community would argue. A Children’s Emergency Department can outperform an Adult Emergency Department in the care of a child. If you can go to any Emergency Room, why not go to the best?”

An emergency room that specializes in the care of children offers parents the peace of mind of knowing that they are in a place that can care for any need that arises with their child and receive the best care available.