Parents' perceptions of pediatric day surgery risks: unforeseeable complications, or avoidable mistakes?

Soc Sci Med. 2005 May;60(10):2341-50. doi: 10.1016/j.socscimed.2004.10.006. Epub 2004 Dec 16.


A decline in people's trust of the US health care system has been documented. But do parents of pediatric patients have specific safety worries? If so, what are they? And what cultural factors inform them? To help answer these questions, in San Diego 35 English- and Spanish-speaking parents' (or guardians') self-reports of perceptions of their child's risk for experiencing a medical error during day surgery were collected using open-ended rapid assessment interviews, and analyzed using qualitative content analysis methods. (The innovative data collection and analysis protocol is described so as to be easily replicable in other settings for other types of highly focused quality improvement initiatives that rely on the inclusion of parent or patient perspectives and entail limited time and resources). Twelve key themes were identified. Anthropological discourse analysis techniques (modified for rapid use with rapidly collected interview data) were then applied to the transcripts in order to generate ideas regarding cultural factors underlying the themes. Discursive patterns of risk rationalization or refutation related to cultural expectations for parenting, children's bodies, and health care consumerism were found. Neither the (careful, loving, good) parent nor the (wisely chosen or well-reputed) care team was to blame for medical errors. Errors were cast as the inevitable results of latent, unanticipatable vulnerabilities inherent in the (defenseless) children undergoing surgery. The anxiety-generating potential of the surgical consent process also was noted. The implications of the findings for action as well as for theories of risk and vulnerability and of childhood and parenthood are discussed.

MeSH terms

  • Ambulatory Surgical Procedures / adverse effects*
  • California
  • Child
  • Female
  • Hospitals, Pediatric / standards*
  • Humans
  • Interviews as Topic
  • Male
  • Medical Errors
  • Parents / psychology*
  • Risk Assessment*
  • Risk Factors
  • Safety
  • Social Perception*
  • Trust