Parents benefit by accompanying children on ambulance trips between hospitals

March 04, 2001

Philadelphia, Pa. -- In a change in practice at one large pediatric hospital system, parents are now routinely asked if they wish to accompany their children on an ambulance trip between two hospitals. The change reflects recent studies of parent experiences and attitudes by an emergency physician at The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, which showed that far more parents felt reassured after accompanying their children on ambulance transports, compared to parents who did not ride with their children.

A companion study, surveying transport team managers throughout the United States, found no consensus among providers on the desirability of allowing parents to accompany their children on such transports. However, neither study found evidence that the parents' presence interfered with effective medical care. "In fact, I recommend parental accompaniment as a measure to improve overall quality of care," said George A. Woodward, M.D., M.B.A., medical director of Emergency Transport at The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia and senior author of both studies, which appeared in the December 2000 and February 2001 issues of Pediatric Emergency Care.

"Traditional unwritten rules of medicine are changing," added Dr. Woodward. "More than 20 years ago, it was uncommon for fathers to be present during labor and delivery; now their presence is assumed and expected. Similarly, pediatricians have found that having a parent present when a child has a medical procedure can relieve anxiety for both children and parents."

The researchers surveyed parents of children transported to Children's Hospital from other facilities during a six-month period in 1995. The 86 returned questionnaires were evenly divided between parents who accompanied their children and those who did not accompany them.

The vast majority (86 percent) of all the parents in the survey felt that accompanying their child was important or very important. Of the parents who accompanied their children, 90 percent felt reassured, compared to 38 percent of the parents who did not accompany their children.

Of the group who rode with their children, only 5 percent reported that accompanying their children made the parents feel anxious, compared to 56 percent of the other group who felt anxious about not being with their children. Ninety-four percent of all the parents surveyed said they would choose to travel with their children in future similar circumstances.

Before the study began in 1995, Children's Hospital had an unwritten policy that parents should not accompany their children during a transport. The Hospital staff decided to discover the parents' perspective by allowing parents to ride with their children if the parent requested it. During the study period, the transport team did not actively encourage parents to ride in the ambulance. However, as a result of its study the transport team now routinely asks if a parent wants to accompany the transport.

Dr. Woodward added that the parent's presence during the transport conveys comfort to the child and eases the child's transition to a hospital setting. One parent wrote on the survey, "My child was very calm, knowing I was there with him." Another wrote, "She was having difficulty breathing. The only way we were able to settle her down and stabilize her condition was for me to hold her. Children at her age often do not want to be separated from their mom."

The researchers found no adverse incidents related to parental accompaniment during the study. They noted, however, that there might be factors such as space limitations, as in helicopter transports, or other situations in which it is not appropriate to include a parent during a transport.
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Founded in 1855 as the nation's first pediatric hospital, The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia is ranked today as the best pediatric hospital in the nation by a comprehensive Child Magazine survey. Through its long-standing commitment to providing exceptional patient care, training new generations of pediatric healthcare professionals and pioneering major research initiatives, Children's Hospital has fostered many discoveries that have benefited children worldwide. Its pediatric research program is among the largest in the country, ranking second in National Institutes of Health funding. In addition, its unique family-centered care and public service programs have brought the 381-bed hospital recognition as a leading advocate for children and adolescents from before birth through age 19.

Children's Hospital operates the region's most comprehensive pediatric healthcare network, including eight outpatient specialty care centers, four inpatient units at community hospitals, and 27 KidsFirst pediatric and adolescent practices in Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Delaware.

Children's Hospital of Philadelphia

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