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Survey Shows Hospitals Don’t Deal With Children’s Pain Consistently

When it comes to taking care of your kid when they’re in pain, consistency across medical care is crucial. Because all doctors should more or less treat the ache of a broken arm in the same fashion. But, as a recent study that looked at parent and child experiences with their providers shows, there are some concerns with how hospitals handle pain.

The study, published in Pediatrics, was the largest children’s hospital survey of its kind. A total of 17,727 parents and children (18 and under) were studied across 69 U.S. hospitals. The average “top-box” score, meaning the percentage of respondents who were happy with treatment, was a decent 73 percent. But, there was a big difference in experiences from hospital-to-hospital. One of the biggest? “Paying attention to your child’s pain.” Those scores varied from 59 to 94 percent across hospitals.

Dr. Sara Toomey, a Pediatrics Specialist at Boston Children’s Hospital and Professor of pediatrics at Harvard Medical School who served as study lead, explained on the phone that while most hospitals use pediatric pain scales to assess a child’s pain, there might be some inconsistency. “It’s possible that there are hospitals that don’t use them,” she says. “Or there could be processes that cause hospitals to not check them enough.”

girl in hospital bed

More likely, Dr. Toomey suspects that the variance comes down to how hospitals talk to parents and, more importantly, their kids: “From my perspective, understanding how well a hospital does on pain management is also reflected in how well they do on their communication scores,” she says. “Central to understanding and being able to control a child’s pain accurately is truly communication at the core.”

And this is your job. While Toomey understands it’s easy to get overwhelmed in medical situations that involve your kid, she urges that parents need to stay calm and engaged to ensure their kids are receiving proper treatment. “Pain is an area by which having parents who are engaged and empowered to participate in decisions made is critical,” Toomey says. So stay frosty.