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Every Parent Should Ask Their Pediatrician These 5 Questions, Say PICU Nurses

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If there's one thing every parent tries their hardest to avoid, it's having their child admitted to the hospital for an illness. While sometimes the need for inpatient treatment is completely out of a parent's control, there are some key questions to ask your pediatrician, according to PICU nurses, to help reduce the risk.

There are a number of things that can result in a child being admitted to the PICU (pediatric intensive care unit), including complications from common illnesses. "Some illnesses, without proper treatment, can become worrisome and result in a PICU admission," Stacey L. Rose, RN, tells Romper. These include strep throat, the flu, RSV, and croup (for babies). One common complication is difficulty breathing. "Most otherwise healthy children that are admitted to the PICU have some sort of respiratory virus that require respiratory support until the virus has run its course," Wendy Irizarry, PICU RN, tells Romper.

Whatever your child's illness, one of the most important thing is to make sure they stay hydrated. "Parents need tips on how to effectively hydrate a child who is sick and not interested in taking in fluids or food or medications," Lisa Steccato, PICU RN, tells Romper. That's because dehydration, even from a minor cold, can often lead to a trip to the hospital.

These experts say parents can take charge in these situations by asking their pediatrician questions to help them understand their child's diagnosis and treatment. Additionally, if their child was admitted to the PICU, caregivers can ask questions to help them avoid recurrence upon discharge.


What’s The Best Course Of Treatment For This Condition?

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Whether it's the flu or a simple ear infection, you want to be sure you're doing everything you can to ensure your child gets the proper treatment. Rose advises parents to ask questions like, "Does this illness absolutely need a prescription or can we avoid the over prescribing and wait it out?" and "Are there any over the counter medications I can give my child to make him/her more comfortable, without the use of a prescription?"

For chronic conditions, Steccato says parents should ask questions about day-to-day treatment and maintenance of the condition. "Parents should find out how often their child needs to be monitored with chronic conditions and get a daily regimen," she says, like finger sticks and/or breathing treatments for conditions like diabetes or asthma.


What Should I Expect?

If your child is diagnosed with a virus or infection, it's important to manage your expectations so you can be on alert if something isn't right. Steccato suggests asking questions about what kind of behavior is normal for the illness, what to expect in terms of eating and drinking, and how often the child should be using the bathroom. Additionally, she says parents should ask about the best ways to hydrate their child if they are struggling to take in fluids.


When Should I Be Worried?

Leaving the doctor with a prescription in hand or a treatment plan in place doesn't guarantee a child will get better. Irizarry says it's important for parents to understand what to look for in the event a complication does arise. She suggests asking "when should I bring my child into the office?" for a second evaluation as well as "when should I bring my child to the ER?" Doing this will allow parents to be on the lookout for warning signs, and possibly be able to take action before a trip to the hospital is necessary.


What Can I Expect After My Child's PICU Discharge?

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If, for some reason, a child is admitted into the PICU, parents need to continue to ask questions after they are discharged. Their pediatrician knows them best, so can likely give more detailed responses than hospital staff can. Rose says parents should ask, "when will my child be 100% again?" and "can this get worse again?" Irizarry urges parents to ask for clear signs and symptoms to watch for that may indicate recurrence of the illness that led to the initial hospital stay. Finally, Rose says parents should discuss whether or not there are "any long term effects from [the] PICU admission."


I’m Not Satisfied, What Can We Do?

Above all else, parents need to remember that they are their child's advocate and they have the right to push for more answers. "Parents should always trust their gut and if something just seems 'off' they need to persist with their pediatrician to have things examined more closely," Steccato says. "There are countless cases of missed diagnoses that, thankfully, due to a parent's persistence have resulted in the child getting the medical attention they need," she adds. "Parents need to realize that we don't always have the answers and that medicine is trial and error and a process of 'ruling out' whatever isn't going on. Patience and persistence are key".

Outside of illness, all three experts agree parents should regularly be asking their pediatrician about developmental milestones and growth. The best thing a parent can do to avoid larger healthcare issues is to be proactive and understand what to look for before it becomes an issue.


Wendy Irizarry, PICU RN, Children’s Hospital at Montefiore

Stacey L. Rose, MSN, RN, CCRN, Service Line Educator at Yale University and Yale New-Haven Hospital

Lisa Steccato, PICU RN, Children’s Hospital at Montefiore

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