It's your worst nightmare. You take your child to the doctor for that nagging cough or persistent headache or that bad case of diarrhea and the next thing you know you find your self sitting by her bedside in the hospital, searching for answers and hoping for the best.

No parent ever wants to find themselves in the hospital caring for a sick child.  But the reality is that this situation happens more often than most parents would ever want to think about.  Whether it's an accident, an illness, or a routine surgery, you are the most critical player in your child's medical team and there are lost of things you can do to in order to get the best care for your child.

These tips - compiled by the Children’s Hospitals’ Solutions for Patient Safety and the Children’s Hospital Association - can help you stay focused on what to do if your child is in the hospital.

1. Don’t be shy. Ask questions about your child’s care, raise safety concerns you have, or ask the caregiver to double check their chart before they act. Write down your questions to make sure the caregiver addresses them. You might say, “Excuse me; I have a few questions before you start treatment, would you mind answering them, please?”  This is your child.  So don't be afraid to speak up.

2. Remember that you know your child best.  Share unique things about your child with caregivers that may be important for your child’s overall care (i.e. they have a fear of animals, or only like to eat food cut in small pieces).  If she never sleeps well at night or always breaks out in a rash after eating broccoli, share these things too so that the health care team can get a better understanding of what your child needs.

3. Wash your hands, and then wash them again.  Wash your hands and your child’s hands when entering and leaving the hospital, your patient room, the bathroom and any treatment rooms (such as x-ray); and be sure to wash if you have handled any soiled material.

4. Make sure everyone else washes, too. That goes for your child's other visitors as well as his health care providers.  Since you are part of your child’s health care team, do not be afraid to remind doctors and nurses about washing their hands before working with you—even if they are wearing gloves. You might say, “Excuse me; I didn’t see you wash your hands. I’d like to be sure everyone’s hands are clean. Please wash them before caring for my child.”

5. Keep a close eye on your child.  If she has a wound or surgical incision, watch it to make sure it stays clean and dry.  Keep a lookout for red or irritated skin that could indicate an infection.  

6. Know what medications your child is on.  Ask for the names of the medications your child is receiving in the hospital and how it is expected to help your child. Caregivers will check your child’s identification band before giving a medication to make certain the correct medication is being given. If you don’t see this, ask staff to double check that the medication is for your child. You might say, “Excuse me, that medication is not familiar to me. Can you please double check it against my child’s chart?”

7. Be ready when it's time to go home.  When your child is ready to go home from the hospital, make certain you know what medications and/or treatments your child will need once home. Ask what you should watch for that will require a call to your child’s doctor and which doctor to call if questions come up. Also, ask when your child will need to follow up with a physician appointment.

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