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Parental and physician disagreement on help-seeking in paediatric case scenarios


Objective Whenever a child falls ill, parents need to decide whether there is a need to contact medical professionals. Parental and physician perspectives on the severity of a child’s illness differ. We aimed to determine triggers for help-seeking among parents.

Design and setting We conducted a survey study among 200 parents. In four hypothetical case scenarios, an acutely ill child was described with a baseline symptom (abdominal pain, rhinitis, headache, limping), with deterioration over time. Parents had to answer when they would contact the general practitioner. Fifty-four physicians received the same case scenarios.

Main outcome measures Parents and physicians did not differ significantly in help-seeking in the abdominal pain case. In the non-urgent rhinitis case, parents sought help earlier than physicians wished them to, while in the urgent illness cases of headache and limping parents tend to seek help later than physicians wished. Rising body temperature was more alarming to parents than physicians, while loss of appetite did not concern either group. Parents did not recognise several red flags, for example, drowsiness and refusal to stand. Low educated parents and parents with a history of more frequent healthcare use were inclined to seek help earlier.

Implication of results In urgent cases, parents do not seem to recognise red flags, while some non-urgent symptoms trigger them to seek help. This reveals a need for mutual education. Physician awareness of a perception gap could help them adjust their communication and empower parents.

  • paediatrics
  • child health services
  • emergency care

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