Parents' False Beliefs Bring Kids to ER for Colds
Mon Feb 3, 2003, 11:52 AM ET
By Alison McCook
NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - Mistaken beliefs about the causes and cures of simple colds cause parents to schedule millions of unnecessary doctor visits each year, costing untold amounts to the healthcare system, according to new research released Monday.
Most colds are caused by viruses, and most get better on their own without the need for medical care. Despite this, 66% of parents say they believe bacteria could sometimes cause colds, and more than half report feeling that antibiotics--which target bacteria--could cure colds.
And almost one quarter of parents surveyed said they would bring their children to the emergency room if they developed a cold, while 60% said they would seek care at a doctor's office.
These findings suggest that informing parents about when to bring their cold-stricken child for medical care could have a significant effect on healthcare costs, study author Dr. Grace M. Lee of the Children's Hospital in Boston told Reuters Health.
If a child has a simple runny nose and a cough, "then there's not much a physician would do," Lee said. If there is a high fever, ear pain or if the child has difficulty breathing, then it may be important to bring him to the doctor, she said, just to make sure he does not have anything else in addition to his cold.
"But for the most part, it's just fluid and rest" to cure a cold, Lee noted, things a caregiver can provide better than a doctor.
Many parents schedule visits with doctors for children with colds that don't need a doctor's help, Lee and her colleagues report in the February issue of Pediatrics. Each year in the US, 1.6 million adults and children visit the emergency department for simple colds, and 25 million get harmless colds checked out in a doctor's office.
The results are based on a survey of 197 families with at least one child between 6 months and 5 years of age. All children spent at least 10 hours each week in childcare outside of the home and with at least five other children.
Lee and her team also discovered that parents are more likely to bring their cold-stricken children to the emergency room if the children are covered by the government health program Medicaid, or have a history of wheezing.
Parents were more likely to seek aid in a doctor's office for their child's cold if the parents were less than 30-years-old and believed that antibiotics can cure colds.
Despite an increasing awareness of the problems of antibiotic resistance due to over-prescription of the drugs, Lee explained that many parents are clearly not "getting that message."
Previous research has shown that people who are given antibiotics by a doctor to treat a cold once are, understandably, more likely to return to a doctor's office for their next cold, she noted.
This suggests that doctors can play a significant role in informing parents about how best to treat colds, Lee said, both their own and their children's.
Information campaigns within the community could also disseminate needed information, Lee added, "and get that message out there about when it's important to see a doctor, and when you should stay home."
SOURCE: Pediatrics 2003;111:231-236