Are You Prepared for an Emergency?

What to do if your child needs immediate medical attention.

Preparing for an Emergency

The best time to figure out what to do in an emergency is before it happens. If you come up with a plan ahead of time, you won't waste precious minutes searching for phone numbers, documents, and the best way to get to the hospital. Here's what to do now to be prepared for an emergency later:

1. Ask your child's doctor which hospital or medical facility he recommends in the event of an emergency. The closest facility isn't necessarily the best one. If there's a nearby children's hospital or a facility where physicians and nurses are specially trained and certified in pediatric emergency medicine (often found in a large teaching hospital), your child will be best off there.

Most children's hospitals and all pediatric emergency departments are equipped with infant- and child-size testing devices and trauma equipment, and their personnel are trained to work with children, notes Richard Ruddy, MD, director of emergency medicine at Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center. However, if your child's condition is life threatening, you won't have a choice as to where he's taken. In most states, the paramedics will take him to the best-suited facility, which probably means the closest hospital, unless there's a strong pediatric hospital or emergency service relatively close by.

2. Practice the drive to the hospital. That way, you'll know the fastest route there and exactly where the emergency entrance is. If you work outside the home, figure out how to get to the hospital from your workplace as well.

3. Keep essential information about your child easily accessible. Put it in your diaper bag and on the refrigerator, and post it by the main phone. Include:

  • Your baby's first and last name
  • Date of birth
  • Medical history, such as asthma, heart problems, and allergies
  • Names of any medications he's taking
  • Immunization history
  • Insurance provider
  • Social Security number
  • Both parents' names
  • Your home and work phone numbers
  • The pediatrician's name and phone number

Though many parents are under the impression that they should also have some sort of consent form that gives the baby's caregiver the right to make medical decisions when a parent can't be reached, such consent is unnecessary. If a parent isn't there, an administrator can make decisions. If the child's life is threatened or he's seriously hurt or ill, the medical staff will do whatever needs to be done, notes Joe Burley, an emergency medical services supervisor at University Hospital in Newark.

4. Post a list of emergency phone numbers on the refrigerator and next to the main phone in your home. The list should include:

  • Your local emergency service (911 in many areas)
  • The hospital emergency room
  • Police and fire departments
  • Your address and the nearest intersection, in case you've got a new or temporary babysitter who has to relay information to emergency dispatchers
  • The pediatrician or family practitioner
  • Two nearby friends who can be called upon to help
  • The Poison Control Center (800-222-1222, or to locate the center nearest you)


5. Invest in a calling card. Many hospitals don't permit the use of cell phones due to concern that they may interfere with electronic equipment, such as monitors. Keep a calling card or a stash of change in your purse so you can update your pediatrician and family members immediately.

6. Take a CPR course. One of the most important steps you can take to safeguard your child's heath in the event of an emergency is to learn how to do infant CPR (cardiopulmonary resuscitation). This simple procedure could save your baby's life. Not only will the course teach you how to resuscitate your child, but you'll also learn how to assess a sick child's airways, breathing, and circulation. To find a class near you, check with local hospitals and police and fire departments in your area. For more information, contact the American Red Cross.


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