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Along for the Ride

Parents more satisfied accompanying kids on ambulance rides, study says

SUNDAY, May 20, 2001 (HealthDayNews) -- If your child is really sick, the last thing you'd want is to let her out of their sight. But that's what many parents must do when their children are transported by ambulance from one hospital to another. That's because many hospitals prohibit parents from riding in the ambulance.

However, a new survey shows that parents who accompany their children on ambulance rides are much more satisfied with the kids' treatment than parents who don't ride along. And another survey found no strong opposition by health-care providers to allowing parents to travel with their kids.

The new survey, conducted by doctors at The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, says 86 percent of the 86 parents questioned felt that accompanying their child was "important" or "very important." And riding along made 90 percent of them feel reassured about the care their child was receiving.

In the companion study, which looked at caregivers' opinions on allowing parents to ride along, there was no consensus either for or against such policies.

The studies appear in recent issues of Pediatric Emergency Care.

About one-third of U.S. hospitals still prohibit parents from riding on ambulances for a number of reasons, according to Dr. George A. Woodward, medical director of Emergency Transport at The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, and senior author of both studies.

"There was, and still is, concern about the parents impeding care during the ride or liability if there was an accident. In addition, the health-care providers didn't want to have two patients instead of one -- they didn't want to have to console one person while taking care of the medical needs of another," he says.

Nancy Shaw, transport service coordinator for the University of Missouri Children's Hospital in Columbia, says her hospital once prohibited parents from riding on ambulances. But it now allows parents to ride along on one condition: that they step out of the way when emergency care is being given.

"The medics are fine with it now. We do explain to the families that if we do have to pull over to provide emergency care that they would be asked to sit up in the front seat because we can't add pressure to the caregivers," she says.

Woodward says institutions that still prohibit parents in ambulances may simply be slow to catch up with the evolving nature of medical care.

"Traditional unwritten rules of medicine are changing. 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," he says.

Some parents surveyed said not only did they feel better about riding along, but also their presence might have helped control their child's condition.

One respondent wrote, "[My child] 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."

Woodward adds that even the staff at his hospital was less than thrilled about the idea of allowing parents to ride along at first.

"Our team had some significant reservations when we started, for many of those reasons mentioned. But now they've basically embraced it and expect the parents to come with us and have no qualms about it at all," he says.

"In fact," he adds, "I recommend parental accompaniment as a measure to improve overall quality of care."

What To Do

Learn more about the Do's and Don'ts of Transporting Children in an Ambulance at this site provided by Emergency Medical Services for Children.

Read more about children and emergency care in these HealthScout stories.

SOURCES: Interviews with George A. Woodward, M.D., M.B.A., medical director of Emergency Transport, The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia; Nancy Shaw, R.N.C., transport service coordinator, University of Missouri Children's Hospital, Columbia, Mo.; studies from December 2000 and February 2001 issues of Pediatric Emergency Care
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