Dealing with a child's critical illness or hospitalization can be tremendously stressful for both parents and children. Although allowing parents to ride with their critically ill children during transport to the hospital may help alleviate the family's stress by keeping everyone together, does it compromise the health and safety of the sick kids?
In 2002, researchers in London began a 3-month program allowing one parent or guardian to ride in the ambulance with their critically ill child during transport to the hospital. Prior to the ride, parents received information about what to expect and ambulance staff talked to them about staying safe during the ride. Afterward, the medical and nursing staff completed questionnaires about their stress levels and whether they felt they could take care of the child properly during the ambulance ride. They also noted whether they thought that having a parent there helped the child during the ride and whether there had been any problems with either the parent or the child during the transport. Parents also answered questions about whether they felt the ride was safe and whether they felt comfortable with the information they received during the ambulance ride. Eighteen months later, between April and June 2004, researchers conducted a similar survey.
In general, staff members felt positively about parents accompanying their children during ambulance rides. The majority of nurses and doctors found the experience not stressful or minimally stressful, and 98% of staff members said they had little or no difficulty providing care to the child during transport. In about 4% of ambulance rides, adverse events that required treatment occurred - such as mechanical ventilator failure or low battery on a piece of medical equipment. However, in most cases, adverse events weren't related to the patient's health, but involved the staff or parents. Twice the mothers developed motion sickness en route; in another case, the mother couldn't use the ambulance seatbelt. Another incident involved a mother's lost bag, which delayed the ambulance's departure. Overall, the staff members reported more stress when adverse events involved parents than when they involved children.
Almost all parents felt safe when traveling in the ambulance, and 85% said they felt that the information they received during transport was good or excellent. Many parents also said that they felt less stress because they were allowed to accompany their child during the ambulance ride.
What This Means to You: According to this survey, parents feel reduced stress when allowed to accompany their children to the hospital in an ambulance, and staff members generally find that accompanying parents do not add stress or hinder their ability to care for the child patient. In some cases, emergency services teams or hospitals may allow parents to accompany their children to the hospital; in others, there may not be room for a parent or hospital policies may prevent the practice. If you're permitted to ride along, these tips might prove beneficial:
- Have what you need ready (such as your purse or medical ID card) to avoid delaying the transport vehicle.
- Inform the medical staff if you tend to get motion sickness.
- Wear a seatbelt while you're in the moving vehicle.
- Be prepared to provide additional information about your child's medical history, if required.
Source: J. Davies; S. M. Tibby; I. A. Murdoch; Archives of Disease in Childhood, December 2005
Reviewed by: Steven Dowshen, MD
Date reviewed: December 2005