Handling a Hospital Stay – Checklists Can Help

No parent can bear to think about the possibility that one day your child, from injury or illness, may wind up in the hospital. But consider these statistics from the Center for Disease Control:

  • 22 % of all children under 18 will need to go to an emergency room this year.
  • Almost 9% of all children under 18 will be hospitalized with five days as the average length of stay.


All through toddlerhood, my son suffered from severe allergies and asthma. There were more times than I can stand to remember where my husband and I would find ourselves racing Sam to an emergency room when his breathing became so labored we could not manage his symptoms at home. It was always scary for us, his parents, but I can only imagine how much more so it was for him. While he has thankfully outgrown his asthma and the careful monitoring that it required, he is an active, athletic young teen boy and that has meant trips to the emergency room for other reasons: a broken wrist from playing soccer, another broken wrist (the other one) from snowboarding, a concussion from a particularly raucous game of flag football. We all want our children to be healthy, curious and truly engaged with the world around them but illness and injury are often a part of living too. And it is essential that as parents we actively partner with our child’s care providers during a medical crisis. But how, given an environment that is often so foreign and forbidding to us, and during a time of overwhelming stress and anxiety?

All patients and their families need a basic roadmap to navigate the confusing and intimidating terrain of any hospital. Hospitals are scary places. We go to them when we are at our most vulnerable, suffering from an illness or injury. Hospitals can also be dangerous places as the frantic pace and fragmented care provided by a team of rotating doctors and nurses can put all patients’ safety at risk.

Communicating with your care team and partnering with your doctors and nurses is essential for every patient. Communication failure is the root cause of most preventable medical error. Parents have a special responsibility because our children are completely dependent on us. We know our children best, their personalities, how to read their responses, interpret what they are trying to tell us – in short – what is normal for them. As parents we can provide critical knowledge and observations to our child’s care team at every juncture during a hospital stay.

I have found simple checklists to be an essential tool to keep track of the chaos of our high tech hospitals. Checklists help me communicate more effectively with physicians and nurses. They provide reminders for the many critical care details so that I can actively promote the best, safest care for my family and friends. The next few posts will provide checklist tips from my book, The Patient’s Checklist: 10 Simple Checklists to Keep You Safe, Sane and Organized that can help you actively participate with your doctors and nurses if your child faces a trip to the hospital.


Published on: June 18, 2012
About the Author
Photo of Elizabeth Bailey

Elizabeth Bailey is a Health Advocate and the author of The Patient’s Checklist: 10 Simple Checklists to Keep You Safe, Sane and Organized . For more information visit her website ThePatientsChecklist.com, follow her on Twitter @PatientPOV and connect on Facebook.

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