Study Reveals that 20% of Parents Feel Uncertain about Caring for their Child after Discharge from Pediatric Emergency


A recent study conducted across Canada has shed light on the emotional needs of parents who bring their children to pediatric emergency departments. The study reveals that a significant number of parents leave these departments feeling dissatisfied and uncertain about how to care for their child after discharge.

The research, published in PLOS ONE, was carried out at 10 Canadian children’s hospitals. The findings indicate that 30% of parents have unmet emotional needs, while 15% have communication needs that are not being met. Additionally, 15% of parents feel inadequately involved in their child’s care.

Although around 85% of parents have reported feeling good or very good about their interactions with doctors and nurses, only 81.8% feel comfortable caring for their child at home after the visit to the emergency department.

The study revealed a core theme among parents, which was fear and uncertainty for both their child and themselves. They expressed a need for healthcare professionals to educate them about their child’s condition and ensure that their child is included in the care process. They also expressed a need for sufficient information to confidently care for their child at home.

While the findings did highlight some positive aspects, such as the majority of parents having positive interactions with healthcare professionals, there is still room for improvement in the overall experience for families. The study suggests that decision-makers in healthcare institutions should use these results to allocate resources, design additional services and support systems for families.

The idea for the study came from Dr. Samina Ali, an emergency pediatrician and professor of pediatrics at the Faculty of Medicine & Dentistry. She invited Shannon Scott, a professor and acting dean of the Faculty of Nursing, to participate due to her expertise in engaging families in research and developing health education materials for parents. Pediatric Emergency Research Canada, a network of over 200 pediatric emergency doctors and researchers across Canada, also contributed to the study.

Over 2,000 family caregivers, with 74% of them being mothers, participated in the study between October 2018 and March 2020. They completed surveys while in the emergency department and within seven days of leaving the hospital. The average age of the parents was 37.8 years, while the average age of the children was 5.9 years.

The study found that parents were more likely to report having their needs met if they felt their questions were answered, their child’s privacy was respected, and they received regular updates on their child’s care. Interestingly, parents of the sickest children were the most satisfied, while parents of less ill children were less likely to be satisfied. This is believed to be due to medical staff spending more time with the most acutely ill children.

Scott and Ali emphasize that despite the pressures faced by staff in overcrowded emergency departments with long wait times, better care is possible. They believe that by improving training to meet parents’ emotional and communication needs, the experience for each family can be enhanced. This, in turn, could reduce stress on the healthcare system as parents leave feeling cared for and informed about what to do at home or during the next illness.

The research team also discovered that caregiver stress is associated with early returns to pediatric emergency departments. Additional results, to be published later this year, will explore how parents’ health literacy affects non-urgent use of emergency departments. Health literacy refers to an individual’s ability to understand and act on health information received from medical staff.

Dr. Ali notes that one in three families she interacts with has caregivers with inadequate health literacy to understand the information provided. Managing to increase national health literacy could potentially decrease non-urgent visits to emergency departments, as caregivers with low health literacy are found to be 1.5 times more likely to utilize emergency services unnecessarily.

1. Source: Coherent Market Insights, Public sources, Desk research
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