What are you waiting for? A study of resident physician-parent communication in a pediatric emergency department

Ann Emerg Med. 2008 Apr;51(4):361-6. doi: 10.1016/j.annemergmed.2007.09.032. Epub 2007 Nov 19.


Study objective: This study measures the degree to which parents of patients, in the course of evaluation and treatment in a pediatric emergency department (ED), could report what they were waiting for.

Methods: Brief in-person interviews were conducted with parents of nonemergency patients during an ED visit. After the patient had been seen by a resident physician and evaluation and treatment were in progress, parents were asked to report what they were waiting for. The patient's physician was also asked to report what the patient was waiting for. These answers were compared and coded as complete agreement, partial agreement, or disagreement. Association between lack of agreement and patient factors (age, sex), parent factors (sex, education, age), physician factors (sex, postgraduate year), and system factors (wait time, time of day, number of patients in the department) was examined. Logistic regression was used to calculate adjusted odds ratios.

Results: A total of 200 paired surveys were included in the data analysis. Two thirds of parental reports completely agreed with physician reports, 11.5% partially agreed, and 21.5% completely disagreed. Multivariate analysis revealed that disagreement between resident physician and parents was associated with parental educational level and physician training level. Parents with less than a high school education were more than 9 times more likely to disagree than those with at least some college education (odds ratio 9.3; 95% confidence interval [CI] 2.4 to 35.7). As the postgraduate level of the physician decreased, disagreement was more common; disagreement for patients of postgraduate level 1 residents was 5 times more likely (95% CI 1.8 to 14.5) than that of postgraduate level 3 and higher residents.

Conclusion: As measured by asking the question "what are you waiting for," significant communication gaps were identified between physicians and the parents of their patients in this emergency department. One in five parents could not report what they were waiting for. Factors such as lower parental education and less physician experience increase the risk of such a gap. Further work in defining the source of the ineffective communication and interventions to remediate the problem is needed.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Communication*
  • Emergency Service, Hospital*
  • Female
  • Hospitals, Pediatric
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Internship and Residency*
  • Interviews as Topic
  • Logistic Models
  • Male
  • Parents*
  • Professional-Family Relations*
  • Risk Factors