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Researchers Share Way to Stop Children from Unnecessary ER Trips

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Upper respiratory infections are common among young children, and what's also common are parents unnecessarily rushing their sick kids to the emergency room to cope with their colds, but some researchers have details on what is one way to empower parents and keep more children out of the ER. NY1's Erin Billups filed the following report.

Caring for a young child has its fun-filled moments, but when a child gets sick, many parents err on the side of caution.

"Parents tend to get very scared," says Fatima Beccar-Verela, education supervisor with Early Head Start. "The first thing they'll do is to rush to the emergency room."

That contributes to the over-use of emergency departments across the country.

Working with four Early Head Start programs, researchers from Columbia's Mailman School of Public Health found that that could change with targeted intervention.

"We found that when we embedded an educational intervention for upper respiratory infections into Early Head Start that we were able to impact the way that families were caring for their children," says Dr. Melissa Stockwell, assistant professor at the Columbia Mailman School of Public Health, Pediatrics and Population Health. "We were able to decrease emergency room visits and also decrease adverse care practices."

The study was conducted in 2009, and 154 families participated. Those who did not receive the intervention went to the ER nearly 16 percent of the time, while those who were given tools and information went only 8 percent of the time.

"What the program did and helped them was, with the information to help them to be able to calm down and do a screening of what's really happening with the child," Beccar-Verela says. "Do I need to go to the emergency room? Could I wait until tomorrow? Could I call the pediatrician?"

Staff members at one of the participating Head Starts also say the interventions helped the parents, most of whom are Latino immigrants, get past some cultural misconceptions.

"What we've heard from the parents is that they feel that the quality of the services may be better, or that the doctors are better in the hospital, which may not necessarily be so," says Maricela Ureno, health coordinator at Early Head Start Columbia.

Parents were taught about how to care for an upper respiratory infection, consulting a pediatrician about over-the-counter drug use, and how to properly measure and give their child medicine.

"One of the reasons it was so successful was the fact that it was embedded into Early Head Start, that families have a trust with Early Head Start and they were getting this education information through a trusted source, in a trusted place," Stockwell says.

Stockwell's findings were published in the Journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics.

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