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Public Health Researchers Work with Families to Avoid Unnecessary ER Trips

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Education is going a long way in keeping kids out of the emergency room. 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. The first thing they'll do is to rush to the emergency room," says Fatima Beccar-Verela, Education Supervisor at Early Head Start.

This 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 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. We were able to decrease emergency room visits and also decrease adverse care practices," Dr. Melissa Stockwell, Assistant Professor of Pediatrics and Population Health at Columbia's Mailman School of Public Health Pediatrics and Population Health.

One hundred and fifty-four families participated in the study, conducted in 2009.

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 eight percent of the time.

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

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 hear from the parents is that they feel that the quality of the services may be better, or that the doctors may be better in the hospital—which may not necessarily be so," says Early Head Start Health Coordinator Maricela Ureno.

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 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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