There are over 5,750 hospitals in the United States, but fewer than 250 specialize in pediatrics. Yet experts recommend children be treated at a children's hospital.
What makes a children's hospital a better choice for your child than the closest community hospital? And why is Children's Hospital Colorado the absolute best choice for kids?
Pediatric hospitals are dedicated to children
Here in Colorado, community hospitals abound and there are lots of great ones. Many families develop a relationship with the hospital where their children were born and, without thinking too much about it, fall back on that ER for any emergency or after hours care their family may need. Undoubtedly, the talented doctors there save lives every day. But, while this hospital may be the best choice for an adult, the staff there may not have the training, experience and equipment they need to provide the best care for your child.
Not all hospitals are prepared
As parents, many of us don't want to believe our local hospital may not be the best bet for a child. But research is proving it.
A recent mock trial conducted in 35 North Carolina ERs found nearly all of them were unable to stabilize children properly, order proper IV fluids or recognize a life-threatening drop in blood sugar. And the difference isn't just in doctors: additional studies show only 6 percent of local ERs have the equipment they need to safely treat kids.
The truth is, kids and adults are different enough physically to require different medical knowledge and equipment. If a doctor treating a child uses adult medicine as the point of reference, there is a risk something could go wrong.
Kids' physical differences require dedicated pediatric expertise
Kids' bodies aren't just smaller than adults' bodies. They're physically different. Different enough to come down with many diseases adults just don't get.
Dedicated, pediatric-trained specialists
A doctor who sees kids day in and day out has probably seen enough cases of common childhood illnesses to know instantly what's wrong. Pediatric experts are also more likely to have seen even the most rare diseases, illnesses a doctor who works mainly with adults may never see in an entire career.
What's more, illnesses and symptoms are influenced by the age and size of a patient. One example would be RSV, a virus that makes the rounds in our area every winter. For a child, RSV can be very serious, even leading to respiratory failure. An adult with RSV would just have mild, cold-like symptoms.
Dedicated tests and treatments, for every child's needs
Diagnostic tests and treatments are different, too. Kids have smaller blood cells, so their lab work looks different. They also have less blood—a lab set up to test with smaller samples helps a child avoid possible multiple draws.
Another example would be x-rays. Kids' bones have growth plates, making their x-rays harder to read and setting the bone properly more critical. Kids are also wiggly when you need them to hold still and more vulnerable to radiation. Getting the x-ray right the first time and with as few films as possible help protect your child's long-term health. Reading the x-ray correctly and setting the bone properly when a growth plate is involved are critical to normal growth in that bone.
Dedicated training and practice
There are also enormous differences in language and cognition. Often a child can't express or explain what's wrong, which makes diagnosing a child very different from an adult. It's also common for kids to confuse fear with pain. A child who is frightened may express and experience mild pain as severe pain.
A professional with the training and practice to recognize the difference between fear and pain in a child—and the skills to ease that fear—may be able to avoid unnecessary medication. Perhaps most importantly, kids are more fragile and susceptible than adults.
Expertise recognizing childhood illnesses—and experience acting quickly
In one moment, a child may not seem very sick, and in the next moment be very ill. Being able to recognize childhood illnesses quickly, order only the tests needed and have the results read by trained pediatric experts can make a huge difference. Even the most gifted doctor who expertly treats adults can feel uncertain with an infant or miss something important in an older child.
Assessing your local ER
So how does your community hospital measure up? One way to find out is to simply call and ask.
Questions to ask
- How many children does the ER treat in a typical day? The more pediatric patients a hospital sees, the more experience their staff will have.
Is there a pediatric emergency medicine specialist on staff? Recent studies show only a quarter of all ERs have
- access to doctors who are board-certified in pediatric emergency medicine. Even more surprising, more than a third don't have pediatric specialists on call at all.
The two questions go hand in hand because the more pediatric patients an ER treats, the more likely they are to have the right staff and equipment in place.
Children's Hospital Colorado's pediatric emergency medicine expertise
At all Children's Hospital Colorado ER and urgent-care locations, everyone from doctors to lab techs specialize in pediatrics. Each location is directly connected to our hospital on Anschutz Medical Campus in Aurora and has access to a pediatric emergency medicine specialist at all times. These doctors have at least six years of pediatric emergency medical training under their belts, which makes the three months a typical ER doctor spends studying kids seem pretty meager.
And, as the hospital that sees, treats and cures more kids than all other Colorado hospitals combined, we have more pediatric experience than any other hospital in Colorado. This expertise helps us offer faster and more accurate diagnoses and start treatment sooner.
Know where to locate the closest pediatric emergency specialist
No doctor would advise a parent to bypass a local ER unilaterally. If a child is choking or needs immediate care, the best choice truly is to call 911 or go to the nearest ER. But, when possible, driving to Children's Hospital Colorado pediatric urgent or emergency care location closest to you can help ensure your child gets the absolute best care, even for something as simple as stitches or a broken bone.
 Howard, Melanie. "Diagnosis Emergency." Parenting Magazine, March 2009.
 Hunt, Elizabeth A., Susan M. Hohenhaus, Xhemei Iuo and Karen S. Frush. “Simulation of Pediatric Trauma Stabilization in 35 North Carolina Emergency Departments: Identification of Targets for Performance Improvement.” Pediatrics 117 (2006): 641-648.
 Gausche-Hill, Marianne, Charles Schmitz and Roger J. Lewis. "Pediatric Preparedness of US Emergency Departments: A 2003 Survey." Pediatrics, 120 (2007): 1229-1237.
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