When children are really sick or injured, sometimes their symptoms warrant a visit to the hospital. And, depending on each kid’s medical situation, parents will oftentimes be sent home with a prescription to be filled and a label with instructions for follow-up care. But, as a new research review found, one of the most common mistakes parents make when their kids leave the hospital is not fully understanding how to give their children medicine at home. And by, for example, administering wrong doses or doing so at the wrong time can sometimes make their little one’s illness worse and put them right back in the hospital.
According to a review of 64 studies published in the medical journal Pediatrics on Monday, researchers found that parents accurately following medication instructions was the most common problem following hospital visits.
As Reuters reported, the review found that 38 percent of parents and caregivers didn’t know the right medicine dose and would give their kids at least 20 percent more or less medication than they were supposed to receive — occurring 42 to 48 percent of the time, mostly with measuring liquid medications.
“Underdosing medications may lead to worsening of a child’s illness, while overdosing puts children at risk for dangerous side effects,” lead author of the study Dr. Alexander Glick, of New York University School of Medicine and Bellevue Hospital Center, told Reuters.
Making these mistakes can be problematic because, for example, underdosing an over-the-counter medicine like Tylenol for a fever won't make your little one's temperature come down and they could be sick even longer. Conversely, administering too much of an OTC or another medication can present dangers as well. And while dosage errors are common among children's medications, it's important to get it right.
"Their bodies are still developing and work differently and react to medications differently than adult bodies," Christopher Hanifin, chair of the department of physician assistant at Seton Hall University, told SheKnows. "All medications must be used with caution — even things like eyedrops and ear drops can have side effects and cause significant complications."
The Pediatrics review also found that 42 percent of parents didn’t understand how often children needed to take prescribed drugs and up to 62 percent of families missed recommended follow-up appointments after their child was treated in a hospital, according to Reuters.
The researchers noted these mistakes are likely due to a few main factors: Being a non-English speaker, public health insurance or none at all, having an older child, and not being able to attend appointments due to school and work conflicts. Dr. Glick explained to Reuters:
When children miss follow-up appointments, they lose the opportunity for additional monitoring, and physicians also cannot ensure that parents are following instructions correctly. Misunderstanding discharge instructions has the potential to lead to unnecessary and unanticipated readmissions and visits to the emergency department.
To avoid these types of problems, parents should ask as many questions as possible when they're still at the hospital. And if they're not entirely sure about the medication instructions, parents should do their best to clarify any uncertainties before they get home. Otherwise, the outcome could be very dangerous.
While this mistake is very common and is made by many well-meaning parents, it's simple to solve and only requires a quick, but thorough conversation with the doctor.