Paediatricians have a reputation for being ‘nicer’ than some other branches of medicine. This is probably unfair on the other specialties and more likely to represent the fact that referrals to paediatrics are almost universally accepted. This does not mean that less thought should go into a paediatric one though. In fact Paediatricians can be as unforgiving about poor quality referrals as anyone else (they just might not say so to you directly).
There are a few common bug bears that I thought would be worth sharing with health care professionals working in fields who may be referring to a Paediatric in-patient team. I do this in the context of a Paediatrician (who works in an Emergency Department) often making referral to other Paediatricians. I am sure there are many other points to add to the list but as a starter…
- Think before you speak
For any referral run through what you are going to say before you say it. Too often a junior after being told to refer an infant seen in an Emergency Department instantly picks up the phone and dials. This results in an incoherent story based on what the senior has told the junior about the child not what the paediatric team need to know about the child. If you can’t explain the reason for the referral in less than 15s then you haven’t got to grips with the case and probably don’t understand the reason for admission. This is a skill that requires practice and teaching. In August ask more experienced colleagues what they would say and get them to listen to you making referrals.
- Don’t confuse stridor and wheeze
Stridor is an inspiratory noise
Wheeze is generally an expiratory noise
Referring a child who you have said has croup but describe them as having only an expiratory wheeze is diagnostically mis-leading. There can be a mixed picture and if you are unsure – say so. During winter there will be a handful of children who it can take a while to work out the primary cause of their respiratory distress. Precision in terminology is a good sign you are able to risk assess correctly. And with that in mind…
- Don’t say “I’m worried this well-looking child with a non-blanching rash has meningitis“
The primary concern in children with a non-blanching rash is meningococcal septicaemia. They may have meningitis as well but this is not the primary concern. While it is not unreasonable for parents to use one term to cover both a physical sign and a disease process this is not case for the medical profession.
Meningitis: Inflammation of the meninges (can be viral or bacterial)
Meningococcus: The organism Neisseria Meningitidis (a gram negative bacteria). Meningococcus in the blood is the cause of petechiae and subsequently purpura, the non-blanching rash, tested for with the glass test.
Meningococcal disease: Infections (both septicaemia and meningitis) caused by meningococcus.
- You may miss seeing the signs of tonsillitis but you must have at least looked for it.
There is a spectrum of tonsillar appearance and I suspect even between experienced paediatricians there is variation in how much pus or spotting constitutes tonsillitis. In fact disease progression may mean in between General Practice referral and eventual arrival on the wards an exudate may have appeared.
However the answer to:
“Have you looked in the throat?” should never be “no”
Click here for a quick guide on how to look in the throat of a child.
- Always, always take a good constipation history in children with abdominal pain
“Does your child have constipation?” is not taking a constipation history….
You need to define regularity of bowel habit and its appearance.
“Normal‘ is not an appearance. A description is important and in my experience children old enough to speak get the giggles talking about ‘sausages’ or ‘little round balls’ which helps engagement.
Passing a motion should not be painful. It is surprising how often a parent only finds out their child has severe discomfort on the toilet when someone else asks the question. Some more thoughts on constipation on childhood here
I hope these 5 points are helpful, as I say I am sure there are more, and I hope to add to this over time. Please, please never be afraid to ask for advice when dealing with children. Thinking through the question though will always be in the child’s best interest.
All the best