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Navigating Pediatric Emergency Care: Addressing the Emotional and Communication Needs of Parents

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Zara Nwosu
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Navigating Pediatric Emergency Care: Addressing the Emotional and Communication Needs of Parents

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Pediatric Emergency Departments: A Source of Parental Anxiety

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Parents who bring their children to pediatric emergency departments often face high levels of stress and uncertainty. A cross-Canada study conducted at 10 children's hospitals reveals that many parents leave these departments feeling dissatisfied and unsure about how to care for their child post-discharge. According to the study, 30% of parent caregivers have unmet emotional needs, 15% have unmet communication needs, and 15% feel inadequately involved in their child's care. This uncertainty extends even after discharge, with only 81.8% of parents feeling comfortable caring for their child at home.

The Interplay of Parental Stress and Caregiver Satisfaction

The study, which involved over 2,000 family caregivers, found that parents with the sickest children were the most satisfied with the care received. Conversely, parents of less ill children were less likely to be satisfied. One of the key findings of this study is that caregiver stress is associated with early returns to pediatric emergency departments. Furthermore, parental anxiety has a potential to negatively influence a child’s developmental and mental health.

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The Impact of Health Literacy

Health literacy, or the ability to understand health information to make appropriate health decisions, plays a crucial role in the non-urgent use of emergency departments. The study found that caregivers with low health literacy were one and a half times more likely to use emergency departments for non-urgent matters. This finding underscores the need for interventions aimed at improving health literacy among parents and caregivers.

Improving Care in Pediatric Emergency Departments

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Despite the pressures of long wait times and overcrowded emergency departments, the study suggests that better care is possible. Small changes in the behavior of emergency department staff, such as providing brief updates and answering questions, can significantly ease anxiety for parents. These seemingly minor adjustments can greatly enhance the overall experience for families in these stressful situations. The research team is set to publish new results this year, further exploring how parents' health literacy affects the non-urgent use of emergency departments.

The Broader Context: Emotional Concerns and Substance Use in Adolescents

The findings of this study are particularly significant given the broader context of emotional concerns in adolescents. A separate study of grade 7-12 students in Ontario, Canada, found that the prevalence of psychological distress doubled between 2013 and 2019. This study also found that students using substances reported a higher prevalence of psychological distress, highlighting the importance of understanding the interplay between emotional concerns and substance use in this age group.

Conclusion: The Need for Comprehensive Support

In conclusion, the study underscores the urgent need for comprehensive support for families navigating pediatric emergency care. Addressing the emotional and communication needs of parents, improving health literacy, and involving parents more in their child's care can significantly improve the experience for families. These improvements can also potentially reduce the non-urgent use of emergency departments, freeing up resources for children who need urgent care. The research was funded in part by the Stollery Children's Hospital Foundation through the Women and Children's Health Research Institute.

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