Pediatric Hospitalization

Each year more than 3 million children are hospitalized in the United States.  For some of these children and their families, a stay in the hospital is a planned event for a specialized test, surgical procedure, or ongoing treatment for a chronic illness.  Many children are admitted to the hospital because of a sudden illness or injuries sustained in an accident or traumatic event.  Whether planned or unplanned, a one-time experience or one in a series of encounters with the health care system, each hospitalization can have a major impact on the child and family. 

What Can You Do?

Be Involved in Your Child's Healthcare

The single most important way you can ensure quality and patient safety is to be an active member of your child's healthcare team.
That means taking part in every decision about your child's healthcare. Research shows that parents who are more involved with their child's care tend to get better results. Some specific tips, based on the latest scientific evidence about what works best, follow.


Make sure that all of your child's doctors know about everything your child is taking and his or her weight. This includes prescription and over-the-counter medicines, and dietary supplements such as vitamins and herbs.
At least once a year, take all of your child's medicines and supplements with you to the doctor. Knowing your child's medication history and weight can help your doctor keep your child's records up to date, which can help your child get better quality care. Click here for a wallet card to help you track your child's medications.

Make sure your child's doctor knows about any allergies and how your child reacts to medicines.
This can help you avoid getting a medicine that can harm your child.

When your child's doctor writes you a prescription, make sure you can read it.
Ask the doctor to use block letters to print the name of the drug.

When you pick up your child's medicine from the pharmacy ask: Is this the medicine that my child's doctor prescribed?
A study by the Massachusetts College of Pharmacy and Allied Health Sciences found that 88 percent of medicine errors involved the wrong drug or the wrong dose.

Ask for information about your child's medicines in terms you can understand—both when the medicines are prescribed and when you receive them at the hospital or pharmacy.

  • What is the name of the medicine?
  • What is the medicine for?
  • Is the dose of this medicine appropriate for my child based on his or her weight?
  • How often is my child supposed to take it, and for how long?
  • What side effects are likely? What do I do if they occur?
  • Is this medicine safe for my child to take with other medicines or dietary supplements?
  • What food, drink, or activities should my child avoid while taking this medicine?
  • Is the dose of this medicine appropriate for my child based on his or her weight?
  • When should I see an improvement?

If you have any questions about the directions on your child's medicine labels, ask. 
Medicine labels can be hard to understand. For example, ask if "four doses daily" means taking a dose every six hours around the clock or just during regular waking hours.

Ask your pharmacist for the best device to measure your child's liquid medicine. Also, ask questions if you're not sure how to use the device. 
Research shows that many people do not understand the right way to measure liquid medicines. For example, many use household teaspoons, which often do not hold a true teaspoon of liquid. Special devices, like marked oral syringes, help people to measure the right dose. Being told how to use the devices helps even more.

Ask for written information about the side effects your child's medicine could cause. 
If you know what might happen, you will be better prepared if it does or if something unexpected happens instead. That way, you can report the problem right away and get help before it gets worse. A study found that written information about medicines can help people recognize problem side effects. If your child experiences side effects, alert the doctor and pharmacist right away.

Hospital Stays

If you have a choice, choose a hospital at which many children have the procedure or surgery your child needs. 
Research shows that patients tend to have better results when they are treated in hospitals that have a great deal of experience with their condition. Find out how many of the procedures have been performed at the hospital. While your child is in the hospital, make sure he or she is always wearing an identification bracelet.

If your child is in the hospital, do not hesitate to ask all healthcare workers who have direct contact with your child whether they have washed their hands. 
Hand washing is an important way to prevent the spread of infections in hospitals. In spite of hospitals’ best efforts, sometimes hand washing is not done regularly or thoroughly enough. A recent study found that when patients checked whether healthcare workers washed their hands, the workers washed their hands more often and used more soap.

When your child is being discharged from the hospital, ask his or her doctors or other caregivers to explain the treatment plan you will use at home. 
This includes learning about your child's medicines and finding out when he or she can get back to regular activities. Research shows that at discharge time, doctors and caregivers think people understand more than they really do about what they should or should not do when they return home.


If your child is having surgery, make sure that you, your child's doctor, and the surgeon all agree and are clear on exactly what will be done. 
Doing surgery at the wrong site (for example, operating on the left knee instead of the right) is rare—but even once is too often. The good news is that wrong-site surgery is 100 percent preventable. The American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons urges its members to sign their initials directly on the site to be operated on before the surgery.

Other Steps You Can Take

Speak up if you have questions or concerns.
You have a right to question anyone who is involved with your child's care.

Make sure that you know who (such as your child's pediatrician) is in charge of his or her care.
This is especially important if your child has many health problems or is in a hospital.

Make sure that all health professionals involved in your child's care have important health information about him or her.
Do not assume that everyone knows everything they need to. Do not hesitate to ask.

Consider asking a family member or friend to be there with you.

It may provide peace of mind to have a family member or friend accompany you to the hospital on your child's day of surgery. For same-day or out-patient surgery, you may need them to provide a ride home. This person can also be there to help you understand information you may receive, take notes about the procedure or care, or participate in healthcare decisions while your child is hospitalized. Speak with your clinician to see what level of family or friend involvement may be needed.

Ask why each test or procedure is being done. 
It is a good idea to find out why a test or treatment is needed and how it can help. Your child could be better off without it.

If your child has a test, ask when the results will be available.
If you don't hear from the doctor or the lab, call to ask about the test results.

Learn about your child's condition and treatments by asking the doctor and nurse and by using other reliable sources.
Ask your child's doctor if his or her treatment is based on the latest scientific evidence.

AHRQ Publication No. 02-P034
Current as of September 2002

Pediatric Subspecialists Fact Sheets

The American Academy of Pediatrics has created a series of fact sheets that offer information about the many different pediatric subspecialists that parents may be referred to. All files below are in Adobe PDF file format and you will need Adobe Reader to access or print the files.

Pediatric Subspecialties
Surgical Specialists