Language barriers keep parents from asking questions about their children’s care, study finds

Handoffs are one of the most dangerous times in a patient’s care: As one team of caregivers passes a case to the next shift, a clinician might neglect to jot down an important observation, forget to input an order for a test before heading home, or fail to realize that a medication ordered overnight never arrived by morning.

But handoffs do not have to be so perilous, and patients and families themselves can provide a valuable safeguard against medical errors arising from these inevitable transition points. For children in particular, parents are the ones who notice when their infant’s formula was accidentally swapped, or whether their preschooler is still clutching her head in pain after it should have eased. It is with this expertise in mind that a group of physicians and researchers at 32 hospitals across the U.S. and Canada are pushing to improve the handoff procedure and bring patients and families more into the process. But providers have to be thoughtful about how they do that — especially when caring for kids whose parents and families are not proficient in English.

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