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Each year, the tens of millions of critically ill and injured children taken to our nation's emergency rooms face a special danger: that the staff may not have the proper knowledge or equipment to treat them.
Children require smaller-size oxygen masks and blood pressure cuffs than those used on adults, as well as special techniques for some very basic medical procedures, such as starting an IV line. Thanks to the Emergency Medical Services for Children program created by Congress in 1984, more emergency rooms than ever now stock child-size equipment.
However, experts acknowledge that few ERs are specifically designated as pediatric trauma centers. Last October, a coalition of 19 major health-care organizations -- including the American College of Emergency Physicians and the American Academy of Pediatrics -- released a resource kit to help medical professionals provide state-of-the-art pediatric emergency care. It will be distributed to more than 5,000 emergency-care facilities nationwide.
In the meantime, says Jane F. Knapp, M.D., professor of pediatrics at Children's Mercy Hospital, in Kansas City, Missouri, "It's very important for parents to find out where the best emergency services for children are in their community. If your child has a life-threatening injury or illness, the paramedics' protocol will probably dictate to which hospital they take her. But if her life isn't in danger, you have a say in where she goes. Ask your pediatrician which hospital in your area has a doctor who is certified in pediatric emergency medicine or who deals solely with children. And be sure to share the information with your child's caregivers."
To receive good medical care when an emergency strikes, it's crucial to know which ERs are best in your area. "The most important thing to do is find out which local facilities have emergency physicians who are certified by the American Board of Emergency Medicine and are available twenty-four hours a day," says Robert McNamara, M.D., president of the American Academy of Emergency Medicine (AAEM) and chief of emergency medicine at Temple University Hospital, in Philadelphia. "You should ask if specialists will always be available."
The AAEM's Web site (www. 911emergency.org) helps you identify local ERs staffed by board-certified physicians. And the American College of Emergency Physicians provides a checklist to evaluate the emergency care offered by your health-insurance plan. Log on to www.acep.org, click on "Public," then "Brochures and Handouts." Or call 800-798-1822.