New Study Shows Just How Dangerous Emergency Rooms Are for Kids
October 19, 2023
Children account for roughly 22% of the United States’ population, yet according to a new study, emergency rooms around the country are grossly underprepared to treat them during a medical crisis or serious illness. After a thorough investigation, the Wall Street Journal (WSJ) discovered that only 14% of ERs nationwide obtain certifications deeming them as “ready” to treat kids or designating them as children’s hospitals. Despite countless warnings from legislators and health authorities for decades, children and young adults remain at risk for receiving substandard, potentially life-threatening medical care from unqualified emergency providers around the country.
According to the WSJ’s study, most hospitals have not taken the necessary steps to achieve certification for treating children – but this information is not readily available to the public. For example, the WSJ found that while 70% of hospital emergency departments have completed federally funded assessments that determine their preparedness to treat children, individual hospital results remain confidential. The Journal also discovered that half of states do not check whether emergency departments are prepared to treat young patients at all. To complicate things even further, several states that do inquire about a hospital’s pediatric preparedness refrain from publishing the results, including the names of the hospitals that have obtained the certification to treat young, vulnerable patients.
More of the WSJ’s Findings
Believe it or not, hospitals that are certified to treat pediatric patients have varying levels of requirements – meaning that they are not all equally prepared to treat children. The WSJ found that some certified pediatric emergency departments have not done much beyond demonstrating that they can identify weaknesses in their pediatric care and promising that they will make improvements in the future. Others, though seemingly few and far between, are devoted exclusively to the care of children.
This lack of preparedness in ERs around the country is costing young, innocent lives. Just months ago, the JAMA (Journal of the American Medical Association) Network Open found that 1,440 children died between 2012 and 2017 because of the lack of preparedness in the emergency rooms that should have helped them. Horrifyingly, the journal Pediatrics found that kids are four times as likely to die as adults in less-prepared ERs. The WSJ also notes that in addition to these preventable deaths, that “large numbers of children have been left with severe, long-term health conditions”, which could have otherwise been avoided.
While some physicians and other healthcare representatives claim that it is unreasonable for individuals to expect emergency departments to be as prepared to treat kids as state-of-the-art designated children’s hospitals, it’s obvious that not nearly enough has been done to improve the available level of care that children currently receive. An emergency department does not need to be as prepared as a state-of-the-art children’s hospital to treat children in accordance with industry standards, comprehensively and safely. While there are an array of relatively simple steps that ERs can take to improve, JAMA’s Network Open published a study that showed how hospitals nationwide scored a median 69.5 out of 100 on a test measuring pediatric preparedness. To receive a rating of being well prepared, a hospital must score 88 out of 100.
Here are just a few examples of the steps that hospitals nationwide could – and should — be taking to improve their pediatric care:
- Assign a specific doctor and nurse who can coordinate improvements as scenarios arise
- Order and stock appropriate supplies for effectively treating young patients
- Train all emergency staff members to ensure they stay on top of and fine-tune their pediatric treatment skill set
As you can see, simply by making a few changes – none of which even involve increasing staffing and dramatic cost increases – a hospital’s emergency department could become exponentially better-prepared to treat their young patients.
The Toll of Our Country’s Lack of Preparedness
To put it simply, most ER doctors do not treat young patients often enough to spot the signs of, let’s say, a serious illness that is being masked by common, less concerning symptoms, such as a cold, slight fever, or a runny nose. And then there are a slew of other issues that unequipped, unprepared hospital emergency departments face every day, like how to properly intubate a child (which can be more difficult and complex than intubating an adult), knowing the proper medication dosages for younger patients, and identifying symptoms in children that are not old enough to communicate clearly or reliably what they are experiencing themselves. The failure to be prepared to treat children in ERs has directly contributed to thousands and thousands of preventable illnesses and deaths, so the question is: what can we do to change it?
According to the WSJ, there is little incentive for hospitals to improve their pediatric care abilities because most government agencies and professional groups do not mandate it. Current federal funding for improving child emergency care amounts is typically around $190,000 per year. State program officials say that this is only enough to pay for one or two staff members and to provide some free training for ERs and emergency responders – it isn’t enough to promote real, effective change. To provoke meaningful policy changes, we must lobby our local and state representatives. To learn how to contact your local representatives, visit: https://www.house.gov/representatives/find-your-representative.
What to Do if Your Child is a Victim of Medical Malpractice
Just because most emergency departments around the country may not be well-prepared to treat children does not mean that they are not liable for providing substandard care to them. Medical malpractice occurs when a doctor, hospital, or other medical provider is negligent, failing to follow their own professional standards, and hurts or kills a patient as a result. Some of the most common types of medical mistakes that may be linked to malpractice are:
- Delayed diagnosis
- Surgical errors
- Anesthesia errors
- Birth injuries
- Failure to treat
If you believe your child was a victim of medical malpractice, someone at our firm can help. To learn more, please contact a representative online now.
Philadelphia Medical Malpractice Lawyers at Galfand Berger, LLP, Representing Injured Victims Since 1947
If you have questions about filing a claim for injuries your child sustained, contact the Philadelphia medical malpractice attorneys at Galfand Berger LLP today. Call us at 800-222-USWA (8792) or fill out our online form for a free consultation. Located in Philadelphia, Bethlehem, Lancaster, and Reading, we serve clients throughout New Jersey and Pennsylvania, including Allentown and Harrisburg.